RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now to a procedure that has proved extremely effective in helping severely obese patients lose weight and keep it off. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on the latest research on gastric bypass surgery.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: It really hit Terry White eight years ago, when he was at the mall with his wife.
TERRY WHITE: And I was sitting down every few minutes to catch my breath.
NEIGHMOND: He knew he had to lose weight for good.
WHITE: I've lost a thousand pounds, probably, over the years.
NEIGHMOND: Dieting, losing, gaining back and then some.
WHITE: And that's how I got to be 378 pounds.
NEIGHMOND: Three-hundred-and-seventy-eight pounds at just 5-foot-6, White decided to have surgery to reduce his stomach to about the size of an egg and restructure his intestines to absorb fewer calories and fat from food.
The weight just fell off, he says. He didn't feel deprived. He just didn't want to eat that much. In seven months, he'd lost 200 pounds. That was eight years ago. He's gained back a bit but not much.
WHITE: Right now, I'm from 205 to 210. And it varies 2 or 3, 4 pounds one way or the other.
NEIGHMOND: It turns out, White's success isn't unique. In one of the largest and longest studies of bariatric surgery, researchers with the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Carolina tracked the progress of nearly 1,800 veterans who underwent gastric bypass surgery. Researcher David Arterburn says they expected to see gradual weight gain over 10 years, with some patients even gaining back everything they lost. But that's not what they found.
DAVID ARTERBURN: Patients actually plateaued. And they maintained their weight loss and even lost a little bit more weight over the long term.
NEIGHMOND: One year after surgery, patients lost, on average, 98 pounds. Ten years later, they'd gained back, on average, only about 7 pounds. Arterburn says the surgery likely interferes with the body's natural defense to less food - a slowdown in metabolism. That's what dooms so many dieters. Arterburn says bariatric surgery seems to change how the brain perceives hunger.
ARTERBURN: Even though they're taking in a whole lot less calories than they were before, they don't feel, like, a constant urge to eat. And it's not just a reduction in the size of the stomach. They don't feel hungry in between meals.
NEIGHMOND: This is exactly what happened to Terry White. He no longer feels hungry all the time. And he walks and jogs about 5 miles a day.
WHITE: Before the surgery, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep because every time I'd sit down, I'd go to sleep and snore. Lord knows I could snore.
NEIGHMOND: It's been an unreal change, he says, in his quality of life. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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