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Intermountain Health study looks at long-term effects of weight loss surgery

A black bathroom scale with pounds and kilograms
Weight-loss can lower your risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Published last month in the medical journal Obesity, a new Intermountain Health study followed up on patients 40 years after weight loss surgery. Dr. Nathan Richards, study author and associate medical director of general surgery for Intermountain Health, said the study used data from the Utah Population Database (UPDB).

“So when we are wanting to follow outcomes and … ask questions like, 'Is surgery working and/or how are people doing over time?' then we can go to these databases and get answers," Dr. Richards said.

The study found that overall mortality for both men and women was 16% lower for weight loss surgery patients compared to matched patients who did not have surgery. Broken down by cause, the death rate was 29% lower for cardiovascular-related deaths, 43% lower for cancer deaths and 72% lower for diabetes-related deaths.

“The studies around heart disease and diabetes and … cancer, the dramatic the decrease of those things — that's expected. I mean, it's kind of cool to see. And the degree to which those are reduced," Dr. Richards said.

An unexpected finding, Dr. Richards said, was that younger patients, ages 18 to 34, were significantly more likely to die by suicide than patients who did not undergo surgery.

“And I think it speaks to … what's happening outside of physiology, what's happening with the emotional expectation of 'Hey, I just went through this, I'm in pain. This is harder than I thought it would be, … I'm not losing as much weight as I would like as quickly as I would like," Dr. Richards said.

Dr. Richards said he hopes this study will help providers make the best decisions for their patients.

“How can we do better? How can we better prepare folks pre-operatively and help folks post-operatively from a mental health standpoint to really ensure success?" he asked.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.