Authors of a new study say weight-control surgery really can improve or eliminate diabetes, high blood pressure and other weight-related conditions in “morbidly obese” patients.[@@]

A team led by Dr. Henry Buchwald, a medical researcher at the University of Minnesota, has published the study in the Oct. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers came to their conclusion by reviewing 130 studies that included more than 22,000 morbidly obese weight-loss surgery patients. Doctors classify a patient as morbidly obese when the patient is at least 100 pounds overweight or has a body mass index of at least 40.

Medicare and some private insurers have started to cover the cost of surgical efforts to reduce the capacity of morbidly obese patients’ stomachs. Other insurers have questioned whether the surgery really works to keep weight down over long periods of time and whether the health care gains that result from the surgery are worth the risk.

Patients studied who underwent weight-control surgery lost an average of 61% of their excess weight, the Buchwald team reports.

Weight-control surgery eliminated diabetes in 77% of the patients and high blood pressure in 62% of the patients, the team concludes.

“Weight-loss surgery appears to be one of the most effective treatments for diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea and high cholesterol in morbidly obese patients,” Buchwald says in a statement about the study results.

The safest of the 3 types of weight-control procedures reviewed, efforts to tie off part of the stomach without removing any of it, killed about 1 in 1,000 of the patients involved. The most dangerous type of procedure, ambitious efforts to change patients’ internal plumbing, killed more than 1% of the patients who had it.

One type of procedure killed about 1 in 200 patients, but after 5 years, the patients who had the surgery were 89% less likely to die than morbidly obese patients who did not have the surgery, the Buchwald team reports.