Abdominal Liposuction Does Not Reduce Obesity-Related Health Risks, Study Finds
Abdominal liposuction, or the removal of the subcutaneous fat tissue, can improve appearance but does not reduce the risk of obesity-related health problems such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, according to a study published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Wall Street Journalreports (Majmudar, Wall Street Journal, 6/17). Previous studies had indicated that liposuction could "improve health by lowering blood factors and other risk factors linked to diabetes," the New York Times reports. However, the new study, which involved 15 obese women who had about 20 pounds of fat removed from their abdomens, found that the weight loss did not receive the same body chemistry benefits as those received by women in separate studies who lost the same amount of weight through diet and exercise. In the study, researchers measured the levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, insulin and other substances in participants before and 10 to 12 weeks after they underwent liposuction to determine their risk for heart disease and diabetes. The study found that participants experienced no significant decrease in their risk after they underwent liposuction (Grady, New York Times, 6/17). According to researchers, liposuction removes the "least harmful kind of fat" -- the layer directly under the skin -- rather than the more harmful, deeper and visceral fat deposits that exist in the liver, muscle, heart and abdomen. In addition, they said that liposuction does not shrink the fat cells that the left behind after the procedure; larger fat cells are more active metabolically and release more harmful chemicals into the bloodstream. Fat reduction through diet and exercise removes deeper layers of fat and shrinks fat cells, and according to researchers, the use of more calories than the body consumes remains "the best regimen for achieving the metabolic benefits of weight loss," the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 6/17).
Dr. Sam Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said that the results were "definitive and should end debate about what liposuction could accomplish," the Times reports (New York Times, 6/17). He added that although there were "tangible physical benefits -- the women look better, feel better about themselves and are able to get around better" -- there "were no beneficial medical effects" from liposuction (Hellmich, USA Today, 6/17). Klein said that if study participants had "lost the same amount of weight by dieting, they would have exhibited considerable improvements in their cardiovascular risk factors" (Washington Post, 6/17). He added, "It's not how much fat you remove, but how you remove the fat that is really what is more important. We have to go back to the same old traditional recommendation of lose weight and be more physically active." Dr. David Kelley, head of the Obesity and Nutrition Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said that the study indicates "even if one could suddenly remove the fat tissue per se, you really haven't changed the underlying process" (Donn, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/17). A number of plastic surgeons praised the study (New York Times, 6/17). However, Dr. Peter Fodor, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, said that he has found some patients experience a decrease in blood pressure levels after liposuction and that additional research is required to confirm the results of the study (Wall Street Journal, 6/17). An abstract of the study is available online.
NBC's "Nightly News" on Wednesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Klein, plastic surgeon Dr. Gerald Pitman and a study participant (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 6/16). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media. NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday also reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Klein and Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders (Neighmond, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/17). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.