Weight-loss surgery leads to more divorces, marriages

Study shows people who had bariatric surgery were more likely to get divorced, if married, or get into new relationship, if single.

Weight loss surgery can affect interpersonal relationships, a Swedish report suggests.

Researchers found that compared to people who didn’t have so-called bariatric surgery, those who did were more likely to become separated or divorced, if they were married, and more likely to get into a new relationship or get married, if they had been single.

The effects of weight-loss surgery extend beyond just losing pounds or kilos, coauthor Per-Arne Svensson of Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg said.

Svensson’s team looked at data from two large studies of people who did or did not have weight-loss operations. Seventy to 75 percent of participants were women.

The first study compared 1,958 obese patients who had bariatric surgery with 1,912 who did not.

Overall, 999 participants were single at the start. In this group, four years later, nearly 21 percent of those who had surgery had gotten married or started a new relationship, compared with roughly 11 percent of those who didn’t have surgery. Ten years later, rates of marriage or new relationships were nearly 35 percent in the surgery group and 19 percent in the no-surgery group.

Among patients who were married to start with, however, the rate of divorce or separation after four years was about 9 percent in the surgery group compared with 6 percent in the control group. After 10 years, it was about 17 percent in the surgery group and about 12 percent in the other group.

The second study compared 29,234 obese individuals who had weight loss surgery and 283,748 individuals in the general population. The unmarried people who had weight-loss surgery were 35 percent more likely to get married, and surgery patients who were married were 41 percent more likely to get divorced, compared to people in the general population.

“Within the surgery groups, changes in relationship status were more common in those with larger weight loss,” the authors reported in JAMA Surgery.

Weight loss surgeries result “in a re-calibration of relationships, with patients realizing that they can indeed get out of unhappy relationships and/or initiate new healthy ones,” Dr. Samer Mattar, President of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and Medical Director, Swedish Weight Loss Services in Seattle, Washington, told Reuters Health by email. He was not involved in the study.

In both studies, everyone lived in Sweden. “It is unknown if the results can be generalized to other countries and cultures,” the authors acknowledged.

Another limitation of the new analysis is that it can’t prove that weight loss surgery causes relationships to change. The increased incidence of such changes after bariatric surgery might be associated with increased tension in already vulnerable relationships or to improvements that empower patients to leave unhealthy relationships, the study authors suggest.

They also note that although most post-bariatric surgery patients and their partners report an overall maintained or increased quality in the relationship, partners of patients who have undergone bariatric surgery sometimes report feeling jealous or no longer needed.

“Bariatric surgery magnifies and clarifies the pros and cons of relationships,” said Mattar. Patients should be aware, he said, that the surgery will improve their health and quality of life, including their ability to independently and confidently make personal decisions.

Bariatric surgery is an effective treatment for obesity that has become increasingly popular. In 2016, surgeons performed 216,000 of these procedures in the U.S. alone, including gastric bypass, gastric banding, and sleeve gastrectomy. While all surgeries carry risks, evidence shows that the risks of morbid obesity outweigh the risks of bariatric surgery, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

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