(PRNewswire) Each year more than 200,000 people with morbid obesity undergo gastric bypass surgery, but research shows that more than half of patients regain at least 20 percent of the weight lost. To help gastric bypass patients realize the full health benefits of the procedure, researchers at Wake Forest University have launched a new study to prove that the follow-up care patients receive is just as critical as the weight loss surgery itself.

"You wouldn't invest $25,000 to remodel your home and not maintain it. Shocking as it may seem, follow-up on diet and exercise just isn't the norm with gastric bypass," said Gary D. Miller, who heads the team for the study at Wake Forest. "With so many more people seeking gastric bypass each year, we can improve the long-term outcome of gastric bypass by keeping up with patients as they figure out their new lifestyle. If we can get them to change the way they live and to keep the weight off, they'll reap so many additional health benefits, including lower risks of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer."

Typically, gastric bypass patients receive guidance on exercise and diet, but little to no supervision on post-surgery habits. Miller says the goal should be to help people cement the healthy lifestyle revolution they have started with the gastric bypass. Under this six-month randomized trial, one group of recent gastric bypass patients will receive on-site aerobic and resistance training three days a week, supervised by an exercise physiologist and tailored to their ability. The aerobic exercise will include walking or stationary cycling, and distance, intensity and resistance of exercise will increase gradually. Participants will be encouraged to exercise at least two additional days per week. A nutritionist will analyze participants' food diaries.

A second group will receive standard post-surgery care. This would be the first such randomized trial of gastric bypass patients. "This could show that surgery plus supervised exercise and diet might be the best, most efficient option for weight loss in obese and morbidly obese people," Miller said. Previous research at Wake Forest has shown:

  • Gastric bypass followed by diet and exercise targeted fat loss inside the abdominal cavity. Increased levels of this abdominal fat, also called visceral fat, is known to elevate the risk of developing diseases including cancer.
  • Younger people undergoing gastric bypass increased their mobility and improved performance of daily activities within about three weeks, compared with more than four months in older patients. This study seems to dispel the myth that rapid weight loss leads to loss of muscle mass and physical function.
  • Gastric bypass significantly reduced inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been connected to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.