Bariatric surgery on the rise in Canada

Obesity has become a major population health issue facing governments in developed countries around the globe.

Obesity has become a major population health issue facing governments in developed countries around the globe. Not only does obesity increase the risk of other chronic health conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea—it also strains the use of health resources.

In Canada, 1 in 5 adults has obesity. As those rates continue to grow, so will the need to understand their implications for the health care system.

Evidence shows that bariatric surgery (also known as weight loss surgery) can be an effective tool for significant weight loss among people who have severe obesity. Patients who undergo the surgery often lose a significant amount of weight and see improvements in conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

And while the surgery is not without risks, patient safety is improving, with complication and readmission rates declining over the past few years.

A new CIHI study, Bariatric Surgery in Canada, takes a closer look at the current state of weight loss surgery across the country, including increases in surgical volumes, costs and patient outcomes.

Facts at a glance

  • The number of bariatric surgeries performed in Canadian hospitals has nearly quadrupled since 2006–2007.
  • This rise is due largely to increased funding, surgical capacity and treatment programs in some provinces, most notably Ontario.
  • 80% of Canadians who get bariatric surgery are female. The typical patient is a woman in her 40s with obesity and other related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or sleep disorders.
  • Annual hospital costs for the surgeries topped $48 million, not including physician payments.

Why bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery can be effective at helping some patients reach a healthy weight when efforts to lose weight using diet and exercise have been unsuccessful.

However, it is not without risks,” says Kathleen Morris, director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues at CIHI. “Supervised weight-management programs and lifestyle changes, such as healthy diet and increased physical activity, can be effective too.”

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Medicine, agrees.

Bariatric surgery,” Dr. Freedhoff says, “when performed on appropriate patients by skilled surgeons, and when supported by a robust and well-designed educational component that helps support a healthy post-surgical lifestyle, increases life expectancy and improves many other aspects of quality of life.”

For many struggling with obesity, if efforts to lose weight with diet and exercise have been unsuccessful, bariatric surgery may be an option. Learn more about who qualifies for bariatric surgery in the report’s public summary. For more information, view the infographic and other resources.