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Weight-Loss Surgeries Extend Lives
Date:8/22/2007

Studies support expanded use of gastric bypass, banding, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Confirming what surgeons say they've known for years, two major studies find that weight-loss surgeries reduce patients' risk for early death.

A U.S. study of almost 16,000 obese people found long-term mortality dropped 40 percent for those who opted for gastric bypass. And a Swedish study of more than 4,000 obese people found that death rates fell by 29 percent for those who had gastric bypass or lap band surgeries versus those who did not.

"This comes as no surprise at all -- it's one of the reasons that I have been doing these procedures for so long, because I've seen the real benefit that this has had for people," said Dr. George Fielding, a pioneering bariatric surgeon in New York City.

Fielding, an associate professor of surgery at the New York University School of Medicine, was not involved in the studies, which are published in the Aug. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

More than 120,000 weight-loss surgeries were performed in the United States in 2003 alone. These procedures essentially shrink the size of the stomach, using either a bypass technique or an adjustable band to squeeze off the gastric pouch. The safety of these operations has greatly improved since the advent of minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques, experts say.

Still, even though massive weight loss might be expected to make patients live longer, there has been no hard evidence that it actually does so.

That's been a real problem for Americans seeking coverage for the expensive procedures, one bariatric surgeon said.

"In the last five years, there's been a movement in this country to erect obstacles to [prevent] patients from gaining access to bariatric surgery," said Dr. Anita Courcoulas, chief of the section of minimally invasive bariatric and general surgery at the U
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