New York resident Virginia Gomez had been unemployed for years. Depressed and always tired, coping with diabetes and other health issues, she had almost given up looking for a job.
But that changed two years ago when she had weight-loss surgery that resulted in her dropping 70 of her 200 lbs. Not only did her diabetes and other ailments disappear, she found a job.
“With all that weight I was not working because I couldn’t perform,” said Gomez, 53, a resident of Brooklyn who now works as a food preparer for Cater to You Food Service, a New York City private school caterer that she says specializes in healthful meals made with local and sustainable ingredients.
According to Manish Parikh, a physician who is director of laparoscopic and bariatric surgery at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, where Gomez had her surgery, the patient’s experience is part of a newly documented trend.
While the health payoff for bariatric surgery and the dramatic weight loss that usually follows is clear, Parikh and colleagues have found that there is a societal economic benefit as well: many previously unemployed patients get jobs after they lose weight.
The surgery typically costs between $4,000 and $15,000 in New York, he said, and is covered by Medicaid.
Parikh, who is also an assistant professor of surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center, followed up with 74 patients who had been unemployed when they got bariatric surgery at Bellevue between January 2008 and September 2010. More than 85 percent of the patients studied were Latin American or African-American and 92 percent were women.
The research team found that 24 percent of the formerly obese patients had gotten jobs after the surgery, while in a control group of obese patients with similar demographics who came in for consultations but did not get surgery, only 9 percent had found jobs.
The finding that bariatric surgery can lead to employment is significant, he said, because with Medicaid cuts, some states are less generous than New York in paying for weight-loss surgery.
“This shows surgery can be cost-effective,” said Parikh, in addition to having a physical and mental health benefit for the patients.
According to Parikh, though the study didn’t ask why the patients were unemployed, the causes are easy to understand.
“A lot said their weight was a stigma, or they had difficulty getting around; they had a whole bunch of reasons,” he said.
Gomez, now a size 10 after years of being a plus-size, said the surgery changed her life dramatically.
“My life now is very good. I am happy, I have so much energy. I can wear high heels, I go dancing and I can run. Of course my husband is very happy about this, too,” she said.