Thursday, October 20, 2011

Weight-Loss Surgery for One Spurs Healthier, Slimmer Family

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A computer monitor shows the gastric band around the stomach, as the radiologist injects a saline solution into the port to tighten the band. Photographer: Tina Stallard/Reportage by Getty Images

Weight-loss surgery improves the eating and exercise of the patient’s entire family, according to a new study, lending support to the idea that healthy habits can be contagious.

A trial of 85 people showed that a year after surgery, other obese adults at home also lost weight and obese children in the house had a lower body mass index than expected, according to the paper in the Archives of Surgery. Patients after surgery are put on a strict eating regimen, which acts as a powerful influence for the rest of the household to modify their diets, researchers said.

Today’s findings validate what surgeons have noticed for years: healthy habits rub off, said Nestor de la Cruz-Munoz, chief of Laparoendoscopic and Bariatric Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Surgeons have talked about this effect for years so it was nice to see it in a clinical trial, he said.

“The benefit comes because people then become a little better educated on nutrition and the effects of obesity,” Cruz- Munoz, who was not involved in the study, said in an Oct. 14 telephone interview. “As a patient starts going through the educational process a lot of times the family does as well. Everyone should get better educated on nutrition and obesity.”

Almost 34 percent of American adults are obese, a number that has doubled in the past 30 years, and about 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are obese, triple the rate from the previous generation, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight or obese people have a greater risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

220,000 Gastric Bypasses

About 220,000 gastric bypass procedures are performed in the U.S., according to the paper. In gastric bypass, doctors create a small pouch about the size of a walnut at the top of the stomach and connect it to a passage that bypasses the rest of the stomach and part of the small intestine. That arrangement limits the body’s ability to absorb calories.

Researchers in the study included 35 patients who had bariatric surgery, 35 adult family members and 15 children under the age of 18. The patients and family members all attended surgery follow-up appointments together in the year following the procedure.

Sixty percent of adult family members and 73 percent of children of patients undergoing bypass surgery were obese.

Obese adult family members lost about eight pounds over the year after significantly changing their eating habits, the study showed. The patients who had the surgery lost about 100 pounds, said study author John Morton, director of Bariatric Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California.

Losing and Gaining Together

“We lose and gain weight together,” Morton said, in an Oct. 14 telephone interview. “We’ve got to support each other when it comes to weight loss. When we support each other, everybody benefits.”

There also was a trend for obese children to have a lower body mass index than expected for their growth curve, the study showed. Both adult family members and children increased their physical activity, while adult family members had less uncontrollable eating, less emotional eating and had fewer alcoholic drinks. Children watched less television.

The American Heart Association in March said that severely obese people may benefit from weight-loss surgery, which leads to weight loss and improvements in diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, and those benefits may outweigh the hazards.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

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