Divorce Rate After Bariatric Surgery

Divorce after significant weight loss, in particular with bariatric surgery, is a topic I hear come up fairly often during support groups and in online forums. When it does, time and again a divorce rate of 80-85% keeps popping up. But where does this figure come from? I’ve tried digging up the actual source of this number, but every article I can find about this topic just keep referring to one of the same handful of other articles, none of which seem to actually offer any sort of real documentation.

I have actually been toying around with the idea of trying to find a way to do some actual research on this, even talked briefly with a psychologist I know that works in the field about doing something in this area… but if that were to happen, it would be a large overtaking and wouldn’t give us any answers here right now.

In the meantime, I finally found someone that has done some research on this… but, it was done in Sweden.

Two different groups, one (SOS) was a mix of 1958 surgery patients using data from 1987 to 2015, another (SOReg) looked at a group of just over 29,000 gastric bypass patients with data from 2007 though 2012. The data was compared to a control group of over 283,000 from the general population. In all three groups, the ratio of women to men was about 3-1.

Here’s the technical aspects of what they found out…

In the SOS study, bariatric surgery was associated with increased incidence of divorce/separation compared with controls for those in a relationship (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] = 1.28; 95% CI, 1.03-1.60; P = .03) and increased incidence of marriage or new relationship (aHR = 2.03; 95% CI, 1.52-2.71; P < .001) in those who were unmarried or single at baseline. In the SOReg and general population cohort, gastric bypass was associated with increased incidence of divorce compared with married control participants (aHR = 1.41; 95% CI, 1.33-1.49; P < .001) and increased incidence of marriage in those who were unmarried at baseline (aHR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.28-1.42; P < .001). Within the surgery groups, changes in relationship status were more common in those with larger weight loss.

I had to consult with friends that are smarter than myself, but here is the basics of what those numbers mean… the aHR is the Adjusted Hazard Ratio, it’s essentially the difference in the occurrence of the incidence (in this case divorce) between the two groups. The 95% followed by the CI is their trust in the accuracy of their aHR, that the results fall somewhere in the range that follows it. The P has to do with null hypothesis… so the smaller the number the better that is for the data results.

So breaking the numbers down, the SOS study showed a 28% higher rate of divorce, but also a 103% higher incidence of marriage in their group. The SOReg showed 41% higher rate of divorce and 35% higher rate of marriage. It may be worth noting that the SOS group is smaller, but has a much longer period of data they looked at (up to 20 years). The SoReg group, while much larger, looked at a much smaller time period (up to 5 years) and had a higher divorce rate (41% vs 28%), and a significantly lower marriage rate (35% vs 103%).

This is all from Sweden, a country with an overall divorce (47%) nearly identical to the United States, but can we really extrapolate this data to apply here? I admit, I’m not an expert, but this seems to be the best we have at the moment. So if we do apply these percentages to the US divorce rate of 46% [Source], we’re looking at a divorce rate with post-ops of 59-65%. While it’s not the 80-85% that often gets tossed out, it’s still not a number to take lightly.

There is nothing here that addresses the cause behind the increase in rate, their final conclusion is simply that bariatric surgery-induced weight loss is also associated with changes in relationship status. That’s something any post-op could likely have told you, and there’s dozens, if not hundreds of other articles out there that do discuss it. One thing I’ve often pointed out to people who ask about this topic, if you’re in a good relationship, things will likely only get better. If you’re in a bad relationship, bariatric surgery is not going to fix it.

While there currently seems to be no solid data on just how high the divorce rate in the US with bariatric post-ops is, there is strong reasoning to believe it is higher than typical. The reasons why though, are likely just as varied as the people who have surgery. If it’s something that you are concerned about, it may be worth discussing it with a professional, whether you’re pre or post-op.

And if anyone can find any additional sources on data that applies more specifically to US patients, please let me know in the comments or reach out to me directly.

[Source]: Associations of Bariatric Surgery With Changes in Interpersonal Relationship Status: Results From 2 Swedish Cohort Studies.

[Image Source]: Obesity Action Coalition Image Gallery

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3 Responses

  1. Mark M. says:

    Thank you for this information, although a high number like you stated, it’s not as high as other reports show. My wife will be going through the gastric sleeve surgery within the next month or two and this is my biggest fear. We were high school sweethearts and have been married for 20 years now. Although I have expressed my fear about divorce she tells me it won’t happen but how can one predict the future.

    • Rob Portinga says:

      Which reports are you referring to? The high numbers that seem to be out there in general have nothing to back them up. And no, you can’t predict the future, but if you’re both willing to work on issues as they arise, and be supportive of each other…

  1. August 6, 2018

    […] It briefly gets in to a few things regarding a study recently published in JAMA Surgery and how “surgery was associated with increased incidence of divorce and separation as well as increased incidence of marriage and new relationships.” While it’s something I had been wondering about myself for awhile, it was my conversations with Claire that finally got me digging deeper in to just what the divorce rates might be, and I shared what I found in a recent blog post; Divorce Rate After Bariatric Surgery […]

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