UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have found that the existing body mass index (BMI) criteria for obesity surgery often excludes a group of obese patients at risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to Edward Livingston, MD, chairman of GI/endocrine surgery at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study, the research, which is published in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, is among the first to evaluate the risk-factor relationship between BMI and cardiovascular disease as it relates to bariatric surgery criteria.

"Our results show that cardiovascular risk factors do not necessarily worsen with increasing obesity," says Livingston. "They also support the concept that obesity, by itself, doesn’t trigger an adverse cardiovascular risk profile or increased risk of death."

The researchers examined patient data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database for the presence of cardiovascular risk factors as a function of obesity. The survey was a cross-sectional study conducted from 1988 to 1994. All 17,234 participants had a BMI greater than 20.

BMI is a weight-to-height ratio commonly used in doctors’ offices to gauge obesity. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 25, whereas someone with a BMI of 40 or more is at least 100 pounds over their recommended weight and is considered morbidly obese.

Bariatric weight-loss surgery is currently recommended for patients with a BMI greater than 40, as well as for patients with a BMI greater than 35 who also suffer from a life-threatening illness, such as noninsulin dependent diabetes, sleep apnea, or heart disease.

The study findings show that some morbidly obese patients have better cardiovascular disease risk profiles than those who are less obese. In particular, the researchers found that cardiovascular risk factors can be worse in many individuals with a BMI as low as 30 than they are for some surgical candidates with higher BMIs.

This suggests that some patients who are obese but not morbidly obese could benefit from bariatric surgery, which can help reduce cardiovascular disease, says Livingston.

[www.medicalnewstoday.com, December 20, 2007]