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Study finds racial disparities in bariatric surgery

Contact: Heather Woolwine

August 5, 2013

CHARLESTON – A national study led by the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Arch G. Mainous III, Ph.D., Department of Family Medicine, examined trends of bariatric adult surgery focusing on race and access to health care. The study found that despite a higher percentage of blacks eligible for the surgery, eligible whites were more likely to get it.

Mainous and his colleagues analyzed subjects eligible for bariatric surgery in the National Hospital Discharge Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the 12-year period of 1999-2010 for black and white patients aged 20-64 years.  A higher percentage of black than white women (22 vs. 12 percent) and of black than white men (11 vs. 8 percent) were eligible for bariatric surgery, but twice as many white men and women received the surgery. It also found that 70 percent of white men and women had private health insurance compared to 50 percent of black men and women.

“Bariatric surgery has been shown to be an effective treatment for moderate to clinically severe obesity and more importantly it has the benefit of successfully resolving or improving the important chronic conditions of diabetes and hypertension in the majority of cases,” Mainous said. “Bariatric surgery can improve quality of life, decrease the risk of premature death, and lower disability and health-care costs. Consequently, this health disparity in treatment has implications for health care costs and morbidity due to common diseases like diabetes and hypertension, conditions that are highly prevalent in the African American community.”

Given these estimates and study results, Mainous and his colleagues suggest the following summary of potential causes of this disparity, including:
• access-to-care issues due to differences in insurance coverage
• persistent lack of trust by blacks of physicians
• differences in how blacks and whites assess surgical risks
• some cultural evidence of acceptance of obesity in black populations
About MUSC
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 13,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), Hollings Cancer Center (one of 66 National Cancer Institute designated centers) and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit For more information on hospital patient services, visit


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