(CBS) Bariatric surgery can help overweight people shed big pounds, and a new study has shown the popular weight-loss surgery can help the entire family lose weight.
Obese family members of people who undergo bariatric surgery tend to live healthier and lose weight after their loved one undergoes the procedure, according to the study published in the Oct. 17 issue of Archives of Surgery.
"We knew that obese family members and spouses increases your risk of being obese," Dr. John Morton, director of bariatric surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine, told HealthDay. "We thought, 'Well, can we make this work in reverse? And that's exactly what we found."
For the study, researchers studied 35 obese patients who underwent a so-called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, along with obese adult and children family members. Obesity was defined as a body mass index above 30.
The patients lost large amounts of weight - no surprise there. But researchers were surprised to see that after a year the average weight of obese family members fell from 234 pounds to 226 pounds, and their waistlines went from an average of 47 inches to less than 44. The researchers also observed weight and waist reductions among the children, but the reductions were not statistically significant, meaning they could have occurred by chance.
What happened? The researchers found that both the patients and their families reformed their eating habits. The patients' kids were twice as likely to go on a diet following their parents' surgeries, and they increased their physical activity and watched less TV afterwards.
"Obesity is a family health concern," the study authors said in a written statement. "This study demonstrates that performing a gastric bypass operation on one patient has a halo of positive effect on the weight, eating habits, activity level and health behaviors of the entire family."
Since one of the biggest risk factors for childhood obesity is having an obese parent, the researchers are hopeful these children will learn a lifelong lesson from witnessing their parents' procedure.
"We do need to treat everyone involved and start thinking about bariatric surgery as a platform for change," study author Dr. John Morton, director of bariatric surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine, told the New York Times.
More than 225,000 bariatric surgeries are performed each year. Besidse the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, others opt to undergo procedures like a laparoscopic adjustable gastric band or sleeve gastrectomy, or a biliopancreatic diversion - essentially a more drastic version of a gastric bypass.
WebMD has more on weight loss surgery.