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The patients had surgery between 2000 and 2006. Their average age was 49 and their average body mass index was 47. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
In the study, 11 patients died within the first month after surgery, a rate four times higher than in other studies. That could be because the surgery is more difficult in men than in women, said study co-author Dr. Edward Livingston of University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine.
"Women tend to collect fat in the thighs and hips rather than in the abdomen," Livingston said. Men's fat accumulates in the belly, making it trickier for surgeons to get through it to the organs.
Some outside experts were troubled by the post-surgery death rate. Dr. David Flum of the University of Washington School of Medicine said, regardless of the cause, the higher death rate after surgery would make it difficult to demonstrate a survival advantage.
Dr. Bruce Wolfe, president of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and a professor of surgery at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said the researchers may see a survival benefit with more years of follow up.
"This probably won't deter many people who want surgery," said Wolfe, who wasn't involved in the new study. "They're sick. They have joint disease. They have trouble breathing. They're doing it to improve their health and quality of life."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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