LAS VEGAS – Once reserved for the most obese patients, bariatric surgery is on the road to becoming an option for millions of Americans who are just a step beyond overweight, even those with a body mass index as low as 30 kg/m2.
In regard to patients with lower levels of obesity, “we should be intervening in this chronic disease earlier rather than later,” said, professor of surgery at the Ohio State University, Columbus, in a presentation about new standards for bariatric surgery at the 2019 Annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Symposium by Global Academy for Medical Education.
Bariatric treatment “should be offered after nonsurgical [weight-loss] therapy has failed,” he said. “That’s not where you stop. You continue to escalate as you would for heart disease or cancer.”
As Dr. Brethauer noted, research suggests that all categories of obesity – including so-called class 1 obesity (defined as a BMI from 30.0 to 34.9 kg/m2) – boost the risk of multiple diseases, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, asthma, pulmonary embolism, gallbladder disease, several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, knee pain and chronic back pain.
“There is no question that class 1 obesity is clearly putting people at risk,” he said. “Ultimately, you can conclude from all this evidence that class 1 is a chronic disease, and it deserves to be treated effectively.”
There are, of course, various nonsurgical treatments for obesity, including diet and exercise and pharmacotherapy. However, systematic reviews have found that people find it extremely difficult to keep the weight off after 1 year regardless of the strategy they adopt.
Beyond a year, Dr. Brethauer said, “you get poor maintenance of weight control, and you get poor control of metabolic burden. You don’t have a durable efficacy.”
In the past, bariatric surgery wasn’t considered an option for patients with class 1 obesity. It’s traditionally been reserved for patients with BMIs at or above 35 kg/m2. But this standard has evolved in recent years.
In 2018, Dr. Brethauer coauthored an updated position statement by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery that encouraged bariatric surgery in certain mildly obese patients.
“For most people with class I obesity,” the statement on bariatric surgery states, “it is clear that the nonsurgical group of therapies will not provide a durable solution to their disease of obesity.”
The statement went on to say that “surgical intervention should be considered after failure of nonsurgical treatments” in the class 1 population.
Bariatric surgery in the class 1 population does more than reduce obesity, Dr. Brethauer said. “Over the last 5 years or so, a large body of literature has emerged,” he said, and both systematic reviews and randomized trails have shown significant postsurgery improvements in comorbidities such as diabetes.
“It’s important to emphasize that these patients don’t become underweight,” he said. “The body finds a healthy set point. They don’t become underweight or malnourished because you’re operating on a lower-weight group.”
Are weight-loss operations safe in class 1 patients? The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery statement says that research has found “bariatric surgery is associated with modest morbidity and very low mortality in patients with class I obesity.”
In fact, Dr. Brethauer said, the mortality rate in this population is “less than gallbladder surgery, less than hip surgery, less than hysterectomy, less than knee surgery – operations people are being referred for and undergoing all the time.”
He added: “The case can be made very clearly based on this data that these operations are safe in this patient population. Not only are they safe, they have durable and significant impact on comorbidities.”
Global Academy for Medical Education and this news organization are owned by the same parent company. Dr. Brethauer discloses relationships with Medtronic (speaker) and GI Windows (consultant).