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Families of gastric bypass patients slim down, too

Cindy and Erich Schiketantz horseback riding while on vacation. After Cindy's gastric bypass, she has been leading a healthy lifestyle. As a result, husband Erich has become more active, too.
Cindy and Erich Schiketantz horseback riding while on vacation. After Cindy's gastric bypass, she has been leading a healthy lifestyle. As a result, husband Erich has become more active, too.Schiketantz family

Since research suggests obesity is contagious — if you hang out with people who are packing on the pounds, you’re more likely to gain as well — weight-loss surgeon John Morton wondered whether the opposite might be true.

Could slimming down be catching, at least among the families of gastric bypass surgery patients?

To answer that question, he enlisted 35 patients scheduled to undergo the operation.  As is typical for such patients, four out of five were women. Their average age was about 43, and they had a total of 35 adult family members and 15 children under 18 living in their home.

Many of their relatives were also obese at the beginning of the study. They were asked to accompany the patient to all pre-op educational sessions and post-op visits at which healthy lifestyle changes were and post-op sessions.

A year after surgery, adult family members on average had lost a little more than 3 percent of their weight (a drop of eight pounds from 234). That might not sound like much, but, Morton says, it’s comparable to what women lost in a year in studies of weight-loss programs like Atkins and Ornish. And, he notes, it’s sure better than keeping on gaining, which is usually the case. In addition, the kids’ BMIs weren’t as high as their previous growth curves had predicted.

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The scale didn’t tell the whole story. Family members in the home started turning off the TV and exercising more, Morton and his coauthors explain today in a report in the journal Archives of Surgery. And adult relatives reported cutting way back on emotional eating and drinking booze (people are much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol after gastric bypass surgery).

As for the patients, they lost about 80 percent of their excess weight by the end of that first year. “My hope and belief is if you’ve got good family support,” says Morton, director of bariatric surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, “that’s going to help you stay on the straight and narrow.”

Cindy Schiketantz can relate. The Kitchener, Ontario, woman has blogged about her weight-loss journey at “Sweeping Cindy” since undergoing gastric bypass surgery in July 2009. Schiketantz, 41, who’s not Morton’s patient, says she weighed 444 pounds when she walked into her surgeon’s office. She’s lost 250 since her operation.

Her husband, Erich, was never extremely overweight, but he’d been a lot more active before they hooked up, Schiketantz says. “I kind of dragged him down with me.”

No more. “Since I lost weight, we go out and do all sorts of things together. We’ve been canoeing, we’ve been hiking, we went zip lining together,” Schiketantz said. As a result, Erich has resumed an active lifestyle.

Not to put a damper on things, but it doesn’t always work out so well for patients’ spouses. In 2005, University of Tennessee Health Science Center researchers reported that three out of four obese spouses in their study actually gained weight in the first year.  After all, the researchers suspected, with the bypass patients cutting back on their calories, somebody had to eat all that extra leftover food.

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