What is Bariatric Surgery?


Nearly one-third of Americans suffer from obesity. Obesity continues to be a national health issue despite growing awareness of the problem and national campaigns to promote healthier lifestyles. Evidence suggests that for many obese individuals, lifestyle changes like diet and exercise simply aren’t enough to make a difference, or to combat the host of debilitating and costly medical issues associated with obesity.

Surgical options for weight loss, however, have become increasingly accepted, effective, and safe. Several procedures fall under the umbrella of bariatric or weight-loss surgery, but all work by reducing the size of the stomach, which restricts food intake and affects the hormones that govern hunger. Today, most procedures are much less invasive than they were 50 years ago, when the first weight-loss surgery was performed. Today, patients can expect better outcomes and faster recovery times.

According to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, surgery not only results in significant weight loss, but it also helps “prevent, improve, or resolve more than 40 obesity-related diseases or conditions,” from obstructive sleep apnea to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Although roughly 200,000 patients undergo surgery in the U.S. each year, millions more could benefit from weight-loss surgery. That’s how many people meet the standards set by the National Institutes of Health that bariatric programs like the one at Penn Medicine use to consider patient eligibility. Those standards include:

  • A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more, or 35- 39.9 with medical complications related to obesity, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
  • A documented history of weight-loss attempts with supervised diets and exercise programs.
  • No indication of active alcoholism, active drug addiction, or major psychiatric disorder.

Surgeons at the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program will evaluate other criteria, such as a patient’s age and general health, to determine if bariatric surgery is appropriate. For more information, please click here.