Because obesity is a high-risk factor for COVID-19, there’s been an increased interest in bariatric surgery during the pandemic.
Now, there's some evidence the procedure does in fact lower a person's risk of severe symptoms.
“When the metabolic profile of the patients improve, patients are getting healthier and seem like they can fight the virus stronger and their outcomes are going to be better,” said Dr. Ali Aminian, Director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
The Bariatric and Metabolic Institute identified patients who had weight loss surgery prior to getting COVID and matched them against a control group of obese patients who also got COVID-19. Only 18% of those who had surgery were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 42% of the obese patients.
None of the people in the surgery group ended up in the ICU, on a ventilator or died. Some in the obesity group did.
Doctors believe because they had surgery, that group was healthier.
Aminian says the number of bariatric patients at the Cleveland Clinic is almost double what it was last year. He stressed it’s a very safe, but not simple procedure.
“It's a tool. It's a very safe tool. It's a very effective tool,” he said. “We help them in the journey, but patients need to use the tools to succeed.”
Bariatric surgery candidates meet with a dietitian, psychologist, regular doctor and surgeon both before and after surgery.
Despite the evidence of weight loss and surgery improving numerous conditions, access is still an issue. Even those with insurance may still only get a portion of the surgery paid for.