Obesity is a condition that often follows family lines, but bariatric surgery offers hope for breaking this generational pattern.
"Bariatric surgery is part of a transformational lifestyle change," said Christopher Still, D.O., director of the Geisinger Center for Nutrition and Weight Management. "Patients who are most successful after bariatric surgery must adapt to healthy diet and exercise, and many times this new lifestyle will rub off on family members, resulting in a healthier family unit."
While genetics can play a role in obesity, other familial factors can be major contributors to this health issue, said Dr. Still. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Sociology concluded that a family's lifestyle has a major impact on whether teenagers will end up overweight, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a person's environment and behavior play a large role in obesity.
"Oftentimes, obesity is caused by preventable factors such as poor eating habits or a lack of physical activity," said Dr. Still. "These tendencies are strongly influenced by the people around us. After bariatric surgery, a patient who begins exercising and eating healthier can impart new, healthy habits on their family and help break unhealthy behaviors and ultimately obesity."
Evidence has also shown that women who undergo bariatric surgery before becoming pregnant are less likely to have children that become obese. According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the intrauterine environment is crucial in a child's development, and after bariatric surgery, a woman's uterus is less likely to contain substances within the amniotic fluid that can contribute to a child's likelihood of becoming obese.
The study observed 49 mothers who had children both before and after surgery, as well as their 111 children, who were between the ages of 2.5 and 25. Children born after the mother's weight loss surgery had lower birth weights and were three times less likely to become obese than children born before the mother's surgery. Children born after surgery also had better blood sugar resistance and lower cholesterol.
"Bariatric surgery has effects far beyond simply helping a patient lose weight, and some of the changes in their bodies can be life-altering," Dr. Still said. "The changes that women go through can lessen the likelihood that they have a child who will become obese, presenting another way that bariatric surgery can help break the cycle of obesity."