Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Study Adds to Evidence for Physical and Mental Health Benefits of BCS for Excess Skin Folds

PHILADELPHIA —  For patients who have undergone bariatric surgery, high perceived costs are the major barrier to body contouring surgery to remove excess skin folds, reports a study in the June issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

The study by psychiatrist Dr. Raed Hawa and colleagues of University of Toronto adds to recent evidence that body contouring surgery (BCS)—generally regarded as a cosmetic procedure—has demonstrable mental and physical health benefits.

Cost Is Main Barrier to BCS After Obesity Surgery

The study included 58 patients, average age 46 years, who had undergone bariatric surgery for severe obesity. An average of about two years after bariatric surgery, the patients had lost about 40 percent of their previous body weight. More than 90 percent of patients developed excess skin folds after bariatric surgery.

However, only ten patients underwent BCS to remove excess skin folds—a rate of 17 percent. Body contouring surgery usually consists of abdominoplasty ("tummy tuck"), often with other procedures to remove excess skin and tissue from the breasts and upper arms.

Ninety-five percent of patients who didn't undergo BCS said they would like to have the procedure. But 88 percent perceived high costs as a barrier to undergoing BCS. About ten percent of patients said they wanted to lose more weight before considering BCS.

Although cost was the major barrier, there was no difference in income, employment rate, and other socioeconomic factors for patients who didn't undergo BCS. Younger patients were somewhat more likely to have the procedure.

Improved Mental and Physical Health Outcomes After BCS

The study showed some significant mental health benefits, including lower scores for anxiety and depression, for patients who underwent BCS.

On a quality of life questionnaire, patients who underwent BCS also had more favorable scores for physical health, compared to those who didn't have BCS. Despite the reductions in anxiety and depression, scores for mental health aspects of quality of life were not significantly different for the BCS group.

"Bariatric surgery is now considered the most effective long-term treatment for severe obesity," according to Dr. Hawa and coauthors.

In addition to reducing obesity-related health risks, bariatric surgery has been shown to lead to improvements in quality of life and psychological status.

Body contouring surgery can effectively address the excess, sagging skin folds that develop after bariatric surgery in most patients. The new study shows that although most patients want to undergo BCS after bariatric surgery, most don’t do so—and perceived high costs are the main reason why.

Because of its health benefits for patients, bariatric surgery is usually covered by insurance. However, BCS is still regarded as a cosmetic procedure, and thus is not typically covered by insurance.

Recent studies in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery have reported that BCS leads to lasting improvements in quality of life and improves long-term weight control in patients with excess skin folds after bariatric surgery.

The new study also provides preliminary evidence of mental health benefits of BCS, including reduced anxiety and depression.

Dr. Hawa and colleagues call for more research to assess long-term physical and psychological adjustment in bariatric surgery patients who undergo BCS. If the findings are confirmed by long-term follow-up studies, they conclude:

"[F]unding for BCS may need to be re-evaluated if the goal of bariatric surgery is to enhance the physical and mental well-being of patients."

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

About Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

For more than 60 years, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (PRS)® has been the one consistently excellent reference for every specialist who uses plastic surgery techniques or works in conjunction with a plastic surgeon. The official journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, PRS brings subscribers up-to-the-minute reports on the latest techniques and follow-up for all areas of plastic and reconstructive surgery, including breast reconstruction, experimental studies, maxillofacial reconstruction, hand and microsurgery, burn repair, and cosmetic surgery, as well as news on medico-legal issues.

About Wolters Kluwer Health

Wolters Kluwer Health is a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Serving more than 150 countries and territories worldwide, Wolters Kluwer Health’s customers include professionals, institutions and students in medicine, nursing, allied health and pharmacy. Major brands include Health Language®, Lexicomp®, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Medicom®, Medknow, Ovid®, Pharmacy OneSource®, ProVation® Medical and UpToDate®.

Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company. Wolters Kluwer had 2012 annual revenues of €3.6 billion ($4.6 billion), employs approximately 19,000 people worldwide, and maintains operations in over 40 countries across Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Follow our official Twitter handle: @WKHealth.

About ASPS

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is the world's largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons. Representing more than 7,000 Member Surgeons, the Society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. ASPS advances quality care to plastic surgery patients by encouraging high standards of training, ethics, physician practice and research in plastic surgery. 

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