Harvard Mental Health Letter

Psychological aspects of bariatric surgery

Surgeons may focus on the gut, but it's also important to consider the brain.

Bariatric surgery, which enables people who are severely obese to lose significant amounts of weight, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. In 2000, about 36,700 Americans underwent some type of bariatric surgical procedure; by 2007, more than five times as many — about 205,000 people — had undergone such procedures.

Bariatric surgery is popular because it is the most effective weight-loss option for people whose obesity poses a major health problem. It also alleviates life-threatening complications of obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. But the surgery itself is complicated and involves substantial risks, and recovery can be challenging, requiring a lifelong commitment to behavioral change. It's therefore important that patients considering such surgery be prepared mentally as well as physically.

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