Recent Study Finds Weight Loss Surgery Use Lowest in States with Highest Obesity
A Nationwide Issue
There’s no two ways about it: obesity is a major health problem in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the overall prevalence of this condition America was 39.8 percent in 2016, and the numbers continue to climb.  The public health impact of this is massive as obese individuals are much more likely to have serious heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, as well as a range of other conditions. And among the numerous means of taking on obesity, few are as effective—especially over the long term—as weight loss surgery (WLS) like gastric bypass or gastric banding. 
Unfortunately, stigmas, lack of knowledge, and other barriers prevent people for choosing these options. And, according to a study recently presented at the ObesityWeek 2018 conference, Americans in the states with the highest rates of obesity are especially reticent to undergo WLS.  What’s happening there? Why is this the case? Let’s take a closer look at this work.
As laid out in the presentation, titled “State Variation in Obesity, Bariatric Surgery, and Economic Ranks – A Tale of Two Americas,” the researchers employed medical and demographic data to tabulate overall obesity rates per state as well as amount of weight loss surgeries performed.  In addition, the researchers factored in economic ranking of the respective state, and insurance coverage of these procedures based on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This would give them a clear sense of the numbers surrounding people who are and who aren’t choosing this option.
Running this collected data through sophisticated statistical analysis, the results were quite astonishing. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- High Obesity & Low WLS Usage: The states with the highest rates of obesity in the US are West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. West Virginia ranked 25th in the number of WLS procedures performed, while Mississippi was 48th. On a whole, then, states with higher obesity rates tended to have less surgeries performed.
- Lower Obesity & Higher Usage: Conversely, those states that had the lowest obesity rates (as well as highest economic status) tended to rank highly when it came to WLS performed. Washington D.C., for instance, has the lowest rate of obesity in the US, and, almost too perfectly, the highest rate of surgeries performed.
- Barriers to Bariatrics: Economic factors certainly played a part in these disparities as the poorest states had significantly lower rates of this kind of treatment. For instance, Alaska, the country’s poorest state also ranked last in WLS performed. Another issue had to do with whether states allowed insurance to cover these procedures: among the five states with the lowest rates of surgeries, three did not cover them.
Clearly, there are some interesting demographic patterns surrounding who opts for and who can affordably access these procedures.
Weighing the Decisions
So what can be made of these results? According to one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Wayne J. English of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, “Bariatric [weight loss] surgery remains one of the most underutilized treatments in America and there is great variability in its application because of barriers to access including insurance coverage, economic conditions and other factors.”  Basically, the decision to go through these procedures is often based on economics and type of insurance; the variability in use you see across the country seems closely related to that.
Certainly, there’s robust debate about how best to handle issues like this. For his part, Dr. English said there’s a need for “universal coverage for bariatric surgery so that treatment for a life-threatening disease is not determined by where you happen to live.”  No doubt, different state policies lead to different impacts on public health. As an individual, it’s important to understand what your insurance coverage looks like and what your options are.
Most importantly, however, if you’re struggling with obesity, you must take action. Whether that means discussing WLS with your doctor or taking up other means of weight management, remember that your health and quality-of-life are at stake.
When it comes to weight loss surgery, the team at Evolve Weight Loss truly excels in offering the latest and best in treatment. These Texas and Arizona-based experts pride themselves in ensuring the best possible outcomes for their patients. Learn more about what they do by calling 469-638-0209 today!
- “Adult Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC”. 2018. Gov. Accessed November 17 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
- Haskins, Owen. 2018. “Fewest Procedures Performed Where Obesity Rates Are Highest”. Bariatric News. http://www.bariatricnews.net/?q=news/113340/fewest-procedures-performed-where-obesity-rates-are-highest.