Obese family members of an obese patient who underwent bariatric surgery lose an average of 22 pounds (10 kgs) within a year of the operation, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine reported in Archives of Surgery this week. The authors explained that bariatric surgery encouraged family members, and not just the patient, to adopt better healthy behaviors.

Data in the article’s background information proves that childhood obesity is strongly connected to obesity in adulthood, meaning that one of the biggest risks for becoming an obese child is having an obese parent.

The authors write:

“The obesity rate in children of mothers who have had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is 52 percent lower after surgery compared with the obesity rate in children born to the same mothers before surgery. If one member of the family makes drastic lifestyle changes following surgery, it is possible that other family members will adopt similar healthy habits.”

Gavitt A. Woodard, M.D. and his team from Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, decided to monitor weight and lifestyle changes of patients who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and their family members. Their research, carried out between January 2007 and December 2009 involved a total of 85 participants, including 35 bariatric surgery patients, 35 adult family members and 15 children below the age of 18 years.

The definition of obese adult family members was determined as having a BMI of 30 or more. The obesity of children was determined by using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) sex and age growth charts for BMI at the 95% of higher.

One year after surgery researchers observed that all gastric surgery bypass patients achieved the typical weight loss as suggested by the study institution, while family members shed an average 22 pounds from 220 pounds to 198 pounds. This weight loss was not statistically important, whereas amongst obese family members, researchers observed a statistically significant weight loss from 234 to 226 pounds.

When examining waist circumference, the researchers observed similar results, i.e. adult family members waist circumference changed from 108 cm to 105 cm (42.5 inches to 41.3 inches), whereas obese family members showed a significant decrease from 119 to 111 cm (46.9 inches to 43.7 inches).

Researchers also discovered a lower BMI than expected for children’s growth curve at the one-year follow-up. However, this observation was made only in obese children and did not reach statistical importance.

One year after surgery, the researchers noted significant changes in patients’ and adult family members’ eating habits, whereby patients had significantly more cognitive control over their eating habits and managed to reduce uncontrolled and emotional eating. Although researchers did not discover any significant cognitively controlled changes of eating habits in adult family members, they did observe an important reduction in uncontrolled and emotional eating habits.

They also detected that the chance of bariatric patient’s children taking up a diet was twice as high one year following the surgery of their parent(s), and that they watched a few hours less television and spent a few hours more of their time to pursue physical activities.

According to the authors:

“Obesity is a family health concern. This study demonstrates that performing a gastric bypass operation on one patient has a halo of positive effect on the weight, eating habits, activity level and health behaviors of the entire family.”

Bariatrics is the field of medicine that pertains to weight loss. Therefore, bariatric surgery means weight-loss surgery which is performed on patients who are obese. There are three main ways of achieving this:

  • Gastric banding – the size of the stomach is reduced with a gastric banding (implanted medical device).

    Adjustable gastric banding
    Adjustable gastric banding

  • Removing part of the stomach – known as sleeve gastrectomy or biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch.

    Biliopancreatic diversion
    A biliopancreatic diversion

  • Gastric bypass surgery – by resecting and re-routing the small intestines to a small stomach pouch.

    Roux-en-Y gastric bypass
    Roux-en-Y gastric bypass

According to long-term studies, bariatric surgery generally results in long-term weight loss, improvement in cardiovascular risk factors, recovery from diabetes, and a drop in mortality in very obese people of between 23% and 40%. Some studies indicate that for older, severely obese people, the benefits are not clear.

Written by Petra Rattue