Bariatric surgery does not lead to reduced healthcare costs in obese veterans 10 years on from having the operation, according to an American study.

The study involved 9,954 veterans with severe obesity, which is defined as a BMI of 35 kg/m2 or greater. 74% of participants were male and average age was 52 years old at the start of the study period.

The aim of the study was to compare healthcare costs between participants who underwent bariatric surgery and those that did not.

The types of bariatric surgery that were carried out included Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, adjustable gastric banding, as well as other procedures. Roux-en-Y gastric bypass was the most common procedure, representing 74% of the surgical procedures that were carried out.

The results showed that the total cost of healthcare was greater three years before surgery as well as two years on when compared to people who had not undergone surgery.

The overall healthcare expenditure converged between the two groups to similar levels between five and 10 years on after those who in the surgery group had the operation.

Pharmacy costs were lower for people who had undergone bariatric surgery, but this saving was offset by increased costs for inpatient and non-pharmacy outpatient expenditures.

The researchers concluded: “This finding suggests that the value of bariatric surgery lies primarily in its associations with improvements in health and not in its potential to decrease healthcare costs.”

The research team were from Durham VA Medical Center and Duke University, both located in North Carolina, as well as Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, University of Washington, University of California and the Chicago-based Northwestern University.

The study was published by the journal, JAMA Surgery.

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