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Utah study reveals gastric bypass surgery keeps the weight off

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 2012 5:02 p.m. MDT

Chris Stevenson had gastric bypass surgery in 2009 and has kept the majority of his weight off since. The weight loss led to him kicking diabetes as well. Chris shows a few of the activities he does to keep himself in shape Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At 270 pounds, Chris Stevenson was in no shape to donate a much-needed kidney to his twin brother, let alone climb the six flights of stairs to his office.

The 61-year-old diabetic had also almost given up on seeing his 20-plus grandchildren grow into adulthood.

But that was before he had gastric bypass surgery.

"It's nice to fit into some skinny clothes, but my emotions play into it as well," said Stevenson, who now weighs around 190 pounds. "Maybe I've prolonged my life another 15 to 20 years by doing this. That has some significant substance to it — knowing I can be around and be a part of their life and enjoy my posterity for many more years."

A Utah-based study and one of the first of its kind in the United States has shown that, for severely obese individuals (those with a body mass index greater than 35), gastric bypass surgery can lead to long-term health impacts that may be unobtainable with diet and exercise alone.

The procedure creates a smaller stomach pouch for food and allows it to bypass a section of the small intestine, resulting in less of it being absorbed into the bloodstream.

"For individuals who have such high body mass indexes, I have always felt that for most of those individuals, there is likely a higher genetic factor, something that is part of their physiology that makes it difficult for them to lose weight," said Dr. Ted Adams, lead author of the study and clinical and research director for the Intermountain Health and Fitness Institute at LDS Hospital.

Adams' research was published Tuesday in a special obesity-related edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients can expect to lose about 100 pounds in one to two years following Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. Adams, who also works as a professor of cardiovascular genetics at the University of Utah, said patients are keeping the majority of the weight off, even after six years. 

Surgical patients in the study lost an average of 34.9 percent of their initial weight two years after surgery and kept off 27.7 percent six years after surgery. Nearly all of the subjects maintained more than 10 percent of their weight loss, and 76 percent kept off 20 percent.

By contrast, patients who did not have the surgery stayed at the same weight, regardless of any treatments or programs in which they may have been involved.

"The benefits go way beyond weight loss," Adams said. "We also found that patients who had the surgery were less likely to develop serious health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

Stevenson, who is 5 feet 9 inches, said "it is a lot easier to exercise" after losing 90 pounds.

He has been as low as 165 pounds but said he is "a flagrant violator" of the healthy and regimented diet those who have the surgery must be committed to follow. He takes supplemental vitamins and minerals to maintain his health, but nary a prescription medication is contained in his routine, which wasn't the case before surgery.

Stevenson had been a "full-blown diabetic," needing insulin injections up to three times a day, as well as other medications. His mother died from complications of Type 2 diabetes, and three brothers also have been afflicted with the disease, including one who ultimately received a kidney transplant from his identical twin brother.

"I was of the mindset that once you have it, you've got it for the rest of your life," Stevenson said.

Various research taught him otherwise, and he decided to get the surgery in 2009 — after gaining 20 pounds just to qualify for insurance coverage of the procedure.

"I have never had an ounce of medication since that day," he said. "The diabetes was gone."

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