Doctor measuring obese man stomach.

(© Kurhan -

VIENNA, Austria — Men are five times more likely to die from weight loss surgery than women, a new study warns. A review of over 19,000 obese patients found that men who undergo these procedures are at greater risk of dying within 30 days compared to women.

According to the study, which analyzed national data spanning ten years, older men are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes at the time of surgery. As a result, their long-term mortality rate is almost three times higher than it would be for female patients overall.

“Surgical procedures are some of the most successful ways to help people with extreme obesity to lose weight, but they can come with complications” says the report’s lead author, Dr. Hannes Beiglböck from the Medical University of Vienna in a media release.

“Although the absolute risk of dying after bariatric surgery is low, the findings of our large nationwide study highlight a substantially increased mortality risk among men compared to women. Women seem more willing to look at surgical weight loss earlier in life, whereas men tend to wait until they have more comorbidities.”

What do weight loss surgeries do?

As the worldwide obesity rate continues to climb, so do the number of people seeking weight loss surgery — or bariatric surgery — which are procedures that limit the amount of food which a person can consume or reduce food absorption. The procedures can result in lasting weight loss and lower risks of chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. However, despite similar rates of obesity among men and women, the study authors have determined that there is a gender disparity, as over 70 percent of patients undergoing bariatric surgery are in fact, women.

To understand more about how mortality rates after surgery differ between men and women, the scientists analyzed medical health data from the Austrian state insurance database that covers around 98 percent of the population. Out of approximately nine million Austrians, 14,681 women and 5,220 men had undergone bariatric surgery in their 40s between January 2010 and December 2018. These procedures included sleeve gastrectomies, gastric bypass, and gastric banding. The team analyzed and followed these patients for an average of five years.

What’s contributing to men dying after surgery?

Researchers then analyzed sex-specific differences in obesity-associated diseases in the patients who died. Between January 2010 and April 2020, less than two percent of bariatric surgery patients died. Nevertheless, the postoperative mortality rates were almost three times higher among men and women. Within 30 days of the procedure, mortality was five-fold higher among men, compared with female patients.

Among those who died, cardiovascular diseases and psychiatric disorders were the most common comorbidities. Although type 2 diabetes was more common in men than women who died, female patients actually had a higher frequency of cancer diagnoses (41%) in comparison to male weight loss surgery patients (30%).

“The challenge now is to understand potential barriers for men to undergo bariatric surgery and further research should be performed to explore if earlier surgical intervention in men could improve mortality outcomes,” Dr. Beiglböck concludes.

The authors of the report acknowledge that their findings were observational and the team came face-to-face with several limitations, such as the absence of metabolic and BMI data. Without further research, the team cannot rule out the possibility that other unmeasured factors, including socioeconomic status, race, smoking, and dietary habits, or physical activity behaviors may also be influencing these results.

Researchers presented their findings at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.

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