"We know obese people get cardiovascular disease more often than non-obese people," Litwin said. "One of the questions out there is: Is it reversible if they lose weight? The answer is yes."
Bariatric surgeries have increased steadily in the United States -- from 16,800 in 1992 to about 205,000 in 2007, according to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
The proportion of obese people having the surgery is still small, however. Annually, less than one-fourth of 1 percent of all obese people get it done, said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center.
That's in part because the procedure remains controversial. It's expensive and some insurance doesn't pay for it. In addition, like all operations, bariatric surgery is not without risk. Potential complications, for example, include blood clots, infection, respiratory arrest, gastrointestinal bleeding, small bowel obstruction and death, according to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
"Would it be better if people could lose weight by eating better and exercising more? Probably yes," Litwin said. "But in general those lifestyle changes are ineffective, particularly in people who are severely obese."
The study provides more strong evidence for the benefits of gastric bypass surgery on not only diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and sleep apnea, but on the heart muscle itself, Kaplan said.
"There are innumerable known benefits to gastric bypass surgery on most of the 60-odd diseases associated with obesity a patient may have," Kaplan said. "The question isn't if gastric bypass works. It does work. The issue has been at what cost, both in terms of health risks and financial? This study provides evidence there are additional substantial benefits with respect to heart muscle function, and we should conside
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