Socioeconomic disparities in eligibility and access to bariatric surgery: a national population-based analysis

Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2010 Jan-Feb;6(1):8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.soard.2009.07.003. Epub 2009 Jul 17.


Background: To analyze the socioeconomics of the morbidly obese patient population and the impact on access to bariatric surgery using 2 nationally representative databases. Bariatric surgery is a life-changing and potentially life-saving intervention for morbid obesity. Access to bariatric surgical care among eligible patients might be adversely affected by a variety of socioeconomic factors.

Methods: The national bariatric eligible population was identified from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and compared with the adult noneligible population. The eligible cohort was then compared with patients who had undergone bariatric surgery in the 2006 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, and key socioeconomic disparities were identified and analyzed.

Results: A total of 22,151,116 people were identified as eligible for bariatric surgery using the National Institutes of Health criteria. Compared with the noneligible group, the bariatric eligible group had significantly lower family incomes, lower education levels, less access to healthcare, and a greater proportion of nonwhite race (all P <.001). Bariatric eligibility was associated with significant adverse economic and health-related markers, including days of work lost (5 versus 8 days, P <.001). More than one third (35%) of bariatric eligible patients were either uninsured or underinsured, and 15% had incomes less than the poverty level. A total of 87,749 in-patient bariatric surgical procedures were performed in 2006. Most were performed in white patients (75%) with greater median incomes (80%) and private insurance (82%). Significant disparities associated with a decreased likelihood of undergoing bariatric surgery were noted by race, income, insurance type, and gender.

Conclusion: Socioeconomic factors play a major role in determining who does and does not undergo bariatric surgery, despite medical eligibility. Significant disparities according to race, income, education level, and insurance type continue to exist and should prompt focused public health efforts aimed at equalizing and expanding access.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bariatric Surgery* / statistics & numerical data
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity, Morbid / surgery
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States