White Americans more likely to have bariatric surgery

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Obese white Americans are twice as likely as obese African Americans to have weight-loss surgery, even though more African Americans qualify for the procedures, a new study says.

Researchers analysed rates of weight-loss (bariatric) surgery in the United States from 1999 to 2010 and found that 22% of black women and 11% of black men met medical eligibility guidelines for the procedure, compared with 12% of white women and 8% of white men.

However, twice as many whites as blacks underwent gastric bypass or other types of weight-loss surgery, according to the study, which was published on 5 August in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Insurance coverage appears to play a role in this discrepancy, the researchers say. They found that about 70% of whites had private health insurance, compared with 50% of blacks.

Not the whole story

"Our new findings suggest that differences in insurance coverage are part of the reason why black Americans are less likely to have bariatric surgery, but it may not be the whole story. We need more research to look at whether cultural differences, perhaps a greater acceptance of obesity, lack of awareness of the risks or mistrust of doctors, might also be contributing," Dr Sonia Saxena, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, England, said in a college news release.

People who undergo weight-loss surgery have changes made to the stomach and digestive system that restrict the amount of food they can eat.

Bariatric surgery is an effective treatment for moderate to clinically severe obesity, and it can resolve or improve diabetes and hypertension in most cases, said Arch Mainous III, from the Medical University of South Carolina, in the news release.

"Consequently, this health disparity in treatment has implications for health care costs and morbidity due to common diseases like diabetes and hypertension, conditions that are highly prevalent in the African American community," Mainous said.

More information

The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about weight-loss surgery.

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