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Despite Need, Obese African Americans Half as Likely to Undergo Bariatric Surgery

Update Date: Aug 05, 2013 11:06 AM EDT

Obese African Americans are significantly less likely than their white counterparts to undergo bariatric surgery, according to new research.

Bariatric surgery can prevent serious complications related to obesity such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The latest study looked at rates of bariatric surgery in the United States from 1999 to 2010.

The findings revealed that 22 percent of black women and 11 percent of black men were eligible for bariatric surgery, compared with 12 percent of white women and 8 percent of white men.  However, twice as many eligible white women and men than black women and men received bariatric surgery.

Researchers found that differences in insurance coverage were partly responsible for the discrepancy.  They found that 70 percent of eligible white men and women had private health insurance compared with 50 per cent of black men and women.

"Bariatric surgery has been shown to be an effective treatment for moderate to clinically severe obesity and more importantly is has the benefit of successfully resolving or improving the important chronic conditions of diabetes and hypertension in the majority of cases," researcher Arch G. Mainous III, from the Medical University of South Carolina, said in a statement.

"Bariatric surgery can improve quality of life, decrease the risk of premature death, and lower disability and health-care costs. Consequently, this health disparity in treatment has implications for health care costs and morbidity due to common diseases like diabetes and hypertension, conditions that are highly prevalent in the African American community," he added.

"Our earlier research found that 45 per cent of overweight patients who regularly visited the doctor's office did not recall being told by their doctor that they had a weight problem. Those who did were six to eight times more likely to recognize the problem and twice as likely to do something about it," co-researcher Dr. Sonia Saxena, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said in a statement.

"Our new findings suggest that differences in insurance coverage are part of the reason why black Americans are less likely to have bariatric surgery, but it may not be the whole story. We need more research to look at whether cultural differences, perhaps a greater acceptance of obesity, lack of awareness of the risks or mistrust of doctors, might also be contributing," she added.

Half of black men and women in the U.S. are obese compared to a third of white adults.

The study found that only one out of every thousand eligible black men and three out of every thousand eligible black women undergo bariatric surgery.  In contrast, six out of every thousand eligible white women and two out of every thousand eligible white men had bariatric surgery.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

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