Researchers followed 238 patients who had obesity surgery between 2010 and 2015. Before the procedures, 158 of them, or 66%, had full-time jobs; two years later 199, or 84%, were employed full-time.
“Our study shows positives changes in employment status two years after bariatric surgery in a (severely) obese patient population,” said senior study author Dr Fabian Reche, a surgeon and professor of medicine with Grenoble Alps University Hospital in France.
“This positive change is more obvious for women, who are more discriminated against than men for work, because of their obesity,” Reche.
More than four in five patients in the study were women. The proportion of women with full-time jobs increased from 73% before surgery to 90% two years after the procedures.
There wasn’t a meaningful difference in total weight loss between people who remained unemployed or underemployed throughout the study and patients who found full-time work after surgery, the study also found. Both groups lost roughly 30% of their body weight.
“The patient who finds a job has an outcome as good as the patient who does not work,” Reche said. “This says that despite a professional activity, the patient can adapt his way of eating and find a time to perform a physical activity or sport.”
Researchers classified participants as “persistently unemployed” if they had only part-time work, a temporary disability that prevented them from working or were searching for a job. They counted full-time enrolment in college and maternity leave as full-time employment.
Half of the patients in the study were at least 40 years old and half of them had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 44.9.
For adults, a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 is considered obese, and a BMI of at least 40 is classified as severely obese.
Slightly more than half of the people in the study had a night-time breathing disorder known as obstructive sleep apnoea, and one-third of them had high blood pressure.
All of the patients had a form of gastric-bypass bariatric surgery to shed excess pounds.
A total of 154 had a common type of gastric bypass known as Roux-en-Y, which reduces the stomach to about the size of an egg and rearranges the intestine so that food bypasses part of it. Before surgery, 104 of them had full-time jobs, and afterwards 136 did.
Another 84 people had procedures known as sleeve gastrectomy, which reduces the stomach to the size of a banana. In this group, 54 patients had full-time jobs before the operations and 63 did two years afterwards.
Younger people in the study, who were in their 20s, had less pronounced employment gains after surgery than the patients who had the operations in their 30s and 40s.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how weight loss surgery might improve patients’ job prospects. Researchers also didn’t examine what type of work patients found or how much they earned.
Even so, it’s possible that losing weight helps people find work by improving their physical or mental health, or by making them less likely to experience weight-based discrimination when seeking employment, the study team notes in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases.
“Candidates for bariatric surgery are (severely) obese and have generally impaired health-related quality of life and mobility, which limit employment,” said Jean-Eric Tarride, director of the Center for Health Economics and Policy Analysis at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
“It is also well known that obese individuals face weight-bias job discrimination compared to non-obese individuals,” said Tarride, who wasn’t involved in the study.