To conduct an evidence-based analysis of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of bariatric surgery.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of at last 30 kg/m2.1 Morbid obesity is defined as a BMI of at least 40 kg/m2 or at least 35 kg/m2 with comorbid conditions. Comorbid conditions associated with obesity include diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemias, obstructive sleep apnea, weight-related arthropathies, and stress urinary incontinence. It is also associated with depression, and cancers of the breast, uterus, prostate, and colon, and is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Obesity is also associated with higher all-cause mortality at any age, even after adjusting for potential confounding factors like smoking. A person with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 has about a 50% higher risk of dying than does someone with a healthy BMI. The risk more than doubles at a BMI of 35 kg/m2. An expert estimated that about 160,000 people are morbidly obese in Ontario. In the United States, the prevalence of morbid obesity is 4.7% (1999–2000).
In Ontario, the 2004 Chief Medical Officer of Health Report said that in 2003, almost one-half of Ontario adults were overweight (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m2) or obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2). About 57% of Ontario men and 42% of Ontario women were overweight or obese. The proportion of the population that was overweight or obese increased gradually from 44% in 1990 to 49% in 2000, and it appears to have stabilized at 49% in 2003. The report also noted that the tendency to be overweight and obese increases with age up to 64 years. BMI should be used cautiously for people aged 65 years and older, because the “normal” range may begin at slightly above 18.5 kg/m2 and extend into the “overweight” range.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health cautioned that these data may underestimate the true extent of the problem, because they were based on self reports, and people tend to over-report their height and under-report their weight. The actual number of Ontario adults who are overweight or obese may be higher.
Diet, exercise, and behavioural therapy are used to help people lose weight. The goals of behavioural therapy are to identify, monitor, and alter behaviour that does not help weight loss. Techniques include self-monitoring of eating habits and physical activity, stress management, stimulus control, problem solving, cognitive restructuring, contingency management, and identifying and using social support. Relapse, when people resume old, unhealthy behaviour and then regain the weight, can be problematic.
Drugs (including gastrointestinal lipase inhibitors, serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and appetite suppressants) may be used if behavioural interventions fail. However, estimates of efficacy may be confounded by high rates of noncompliance, in part owing to the side effects of the drugs. In addition, the drugs have not been approved for indefinite use, despite the chronic nature of obesity.
Morbidly obese people may be eligible for bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgery for morbid obesity is considered an intervention of last resort for patients who have attempted first-line forms of medical management, such as diet, increased physical activity, behavioural modification, and drugs.
There are various bariatric surgical procedures and several different variations for each of these procedures. The surgical interventions can be divided into 2 general types: malabsorptive (bypassing parts of the gastrointestinal tract to limit the absorption of food), and restrictive (decreasing the size of the stomach so that the patient is satiated with less food). All of these may be performed as either open surgery or laparoscopically. An example of a malabsorptive technique is Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB). Examples of restrictive techniques are vertical banded gastroplasty (VBG) and adjustable gastric banding (AGB).
The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) Schedule of Benefits for Physician Services includes fee code “S120 gastric bypass or partition, for morbid obesity” as an insured service. The term gastric bypass is a general term that encompasses a variety of surgical methods, all of which involve reconfiguring the digestive system. The term gastric bypass does not include AGB. The number of gastric bypass procedures funded and done in Ontario, and funded as actual out-of-country approvals,2 is shown below.
Number of Gastric Bypass Procedures by Fiscal Year: Ontario and Actual Out-of-Country (OOC) Approvals
Data from Provider Services, MOHLTC
Courtesy of Provider Services, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care
The Medical Advisory Secretariat reviewed the literature to assess the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of bariatric surgery to treat morbid obesity. It used its standard search strategy to retrieve international health technology assessments and English-language journal articles from selected databases. The interventions of interest were bariatric surgery and, for the controls, either optimal conventional management or another type of bariatric procedure. The outcomes of interest were improvement in comorbid conditions (e.g., diabetes, hypertension); short- and long-term weight loss; quality of life; adverse effects; and economic analysis data. The databases yielded 15 international health technology assessments or systematic reviews on bariatric surgery.
Subsequently, the Medical Advisory Secretariat searched MEDLINE and EMBASE from April 2004 to December 2004, after the search cut-off date of April, 2004, for the most recent systematic reviews on bariatric surgery. Ten studies met the inclusion criteria. One of those 10 was the Swedish Obese Subjects study, which started as a registry and intervention study, and then published findings on people who had been enrolled for at least 2 years or at least 10 years. In addition to the literature review of economic analysis data, the Medical Advisory Secretariat also did an Ontario-based economic analysis.
Summary of Findings
Bariatric surgery generally is effective for sustained weight loss of about 16% for people with BMIs of at least 40 kg/m2 or at least 35 kg/m2 with comorbid conditions (including diabetes, high lipid levels, and hypertension). It also is effective at resolving the associated comorbid conditions. This conclusion is largely based on level 3a evidence from the prospectively designed Swedish Obese Subjects study, which recently published 10-year outcomes for patients who had bariatric surgery compared with patients who received nonsurgical treatment. (1)
Regarding specific procedures, there is evidence that malabsorptive techniques are better than other banding techniques for weight loss and resolution of comorbid illnesses. However, there are no published prospective, long-term, direct comparisons of these techniques available.
Surgery for morbid obesity is considered an intervention of last resort for patients who have attempted first-line forms of medical management, such as diet, increased physical activity, behavioural modification, and drugs. In the absence of direct comparisons of active nonsurgical intervention via caloric restriction with bariatric techniques, the following observations are made:
A recent systematic review examining the efficacy of major commercial and organized self-help weight loss programs in the United States concluded that the evidence to support the use of such programs was suboptimal, except for one trial on Weight Watchers. Furthermore, the programs were associated with high costs, attrition rates, and probability of regaining at least 50% of the lost weight in 1 to 2 years. (2)
A recent randomized controlled trial reported 1-year outcomes comparing weight loss and metabolic changes in severely obese patients assigned to either a low-carbohydrate diet or a conventional weight loss diet. At 1 year, weight loss was similar for patients in each group (mean, 2–5 kg). There was a favourable effect on triglyceride levels and glycemic control in the low-carbohydrate diet group. (3)
A decision-analysis model showed bariatric surgery results in increased life expectancy in morbidly obese patients when compared to diet and exercise. (4)
A cost-effectiveness model showed bariatric surgery is cost-effective relative to nonsurgical management. (5)
Extrapolating from 2003 data from the United States, Ontario would likely need to do 3,500 bariatric surgeries per year. It currently does 508 per year, including out-of-country surgeries.