Weight-loss surgery works better than diet or exercise for producing dramatic weight loss, but questions linger over its long-term effectiveness for weight-loss maintenance.
People who underwent weight-loss surgery such as lap-band or gastric-bypass lost about 57 pounds more than those who tried to lose weight through diet or exercise alone, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
What's more, bariatric patients were 22 times more likely to experience relief or reversal of their type 2 diabetes, and were 2 1/2 times more likely to show improvements in signs of metabolic syndrome.
The two-year study was led by Dr. Viktoria Gloy, a scientist at the Basel Institute for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland.
While the results suggest that weight-loss surgery is a "magic bullet" for treating obesity, it bears noting the patients were only monitored for two years. Dr. Glov said she couldn't draw any conclusions on how weight-loss patients fare after the two-year mark.
Interestingly, a 2008 study found that 50% of bariatric patients regain some weight two years after surgery. With surgery, there are also other complications: potential infection, respiratory failure, depression, and the need for follow-up operations.
Then there's the most common side effect, which all bariatric patients experience to some degree: intestinal discomfort. Shortly after undergoing a gastric-bypass procedure in 2002, "Today Show" host Al Roker said he "pooped his pants" during a White House press briefing.
Weight-loss surgery has soared in popularity recently, thanks to the publicity generated by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has lost over 70 pounds since undergoing lap-band in February 2013.
Christie continues to make excellent progress, but has admitted he's terrified of regaining the weight. His concerns are warranted, based on the experiences of other bariatric patients.
Earlier this year, singer Carnie Wilson lost over 40 pounds after undergoing her second lap-band surgery. Wilson got her first gastric-bypass surgery in 1999 and lost 150 pounds.
The 5-foot-3 Carnie, who once topped the scales at 300 pounds, eventually regained all the weight (during which time she had two children). She decided to get a second bariatric operation in 2012 because she had trouble losing the weight again.
Similarly, Al Roker lost 150 pounds following his 2002 gastric bypass, but regained 40 pounds five years ago after his mother was hospitalized. Roker admitted it's difficult to keep the weight off even after surgery because he's an emotional eater.
Wilson and Roker are healthy and well, but their post-surgery weight-loss struggles underscore that surgery is not a cure-all, and that lifestyle changes are critical for maintaining weight loss over the long haul.
"What a lot of people don’t see is how difficult it is to maintain the weight loss," said bariatric surgeon Dr. Beth Schrope. "It requires a lot of work. This is not an easy way out.”