People who have undergone bariatric surgery are more likely to divorce if they were married before the intervention, and more likely to get married if they were previously single, a first-of-its-kind study has found.
The finding shows that although improving physical health is the key motivator for weight loss surgery, it often impacts on the patient’s personal life as well, the Swedish study authors say.
The study, published in JAMA Surgery, looked at two large cohorts, the first with nearly 2000 bariatric surgery patients plus matched obese controls, and the second with nearly 30,000 patients matched with general population controls.
In the first group, those who were single at the time of the surgery were twice as likely to be married or in a new relationship after four years, compared with obese controls, and were still substantially more likely to be in a relationship at ten years. And in the second group, new marriages and relationships were 24% more likely than in the single general population.
But separations and divorces among those in a relationship at the time of surgery were also more common than in both obese and general population controls.
The authors argue that the two findings are probably the result of a new-found self-confidence that patients have after their intervention. For those who are single, that confidence allows them to engage in social activities that they would have shunned before and opens up the possibility of new relationships. For those already married or in a relationship, the surgery may change the power dynamics of that relationship, giving people more confidence to exit a relationship that isn’t working or making them happy.
In a linked commentary, two US-based surgeons say the new research has important implications.
“From a research perspective, we must continue to explore the causes of relationship disruption and initiation so that health care professionals can support patients before and after surgery,” they write.
This will help reassure patients that bariatric surgery is not only the most effective treatment for severe obesity, but also “an extremely powerful tool for positive transformation in their lives”.
You can access the full study here.