People who undergo weight loss surgery anticipate positive change in their lives, including a slimmer shape, a new wardrobe, active hobbies, and increased energy. Now, according to research out of Sweden, they should also be prepared for a potential change of heart.
The study, published in March 2015 in JAMA Surgery, found that people who have lost weight as a result of bariatric surgery have a higher chance of starting a relationship, getting married, separating from their partner, or getting divorced, compared with people who have not undergone the procedure. The greater their weight loss, writes the research team, the higher the probability there would be a shift in their relationship status.
While previous research has shown bariatric surgery can result in improved markers for health, sociability, and quality of life, the current study analyzes the impact the procedure can have on budding and wilting romantic partnerships.
A Closer Look at the Current Study on Bariatric Surgery
The March 2018 study drew its data from two large Swedish national databases. One database compared people who had weight loss surgery to a similarly obese group that had received only weight loss advice, while the other compared changes in marital status of people who underwent the surgery with people of all shapes and sizes in the general population.
Study author Per-Arne Svensson, PhD, a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, says the team was most surprised by the high rate of bariatric surgery patients who found love within four years after their operation. They found these individuals were nearly twice as likely to get married or start a new relationship as the “advice only” group (21 percent compared with only 11 percent).
These increases align with what bariatric surgeons see in the clinic, says Luke M. Funk, MD, MPH, the director of minimally invasive surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and a coauthor of the invited commentary for the study. (Funk was not involved in the study itself.)
“As people lose weight and get rid of some of their obesity-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and [acid] reflux (GERD), quality of life improves significantly. The person starts to feel much better about him or herself, has increased energy [and] more self-confidence, and is much more active than before. Those of us who take care of these patients and see that improved self-image, energy level, and quality of life also see that they are more likely to be comfortable going out and finding love.”
On the flip side, ending relationships was also more common for people who underwent weight loss surgery. After accounting for other factors that could influence breakups, the authors calculated a 28 percent increased risk of divorce or separation after four years.
Researchers speculated the splits could be caused by the lifestyle changes and new habits of the individual after surgery, but they also cautioned against viewing these breakups as negative outcomes.
“It is also possible that the effects of weight loss, such as improved self-confidence and self-image, may empower those who have undergone bariatric surgery to leave unhealthy relationships,” the authors noted.
Although the authors’ results suggest that bariatric surgery can have a profound impact on couples’ relationship dynamics, the research wasn’t designed to identify which partner among the participants ultimately chose to end each relationship, or why.
People who choose to undergo a momentous life event such as weight loss surgery may possess a “bias to action,” meaning they may be encouraged to make additional life changes, like getting a new job or moving. On the basis of his team’s findings, Svensson says this may have been possible but unlikely. That’s because the outcomes of both populations studied yielded similar results. “This leads us to be confident that weight loss (and its associated effects) is the main factor driving the results, rather than potential biases within the study design,” he says.