The number of weight loss surgeries performed in the U.S. has grown by 450 percent from 1998 to 2002, according to a new study.

Researchers say the dramatic surge in weight loss (bariatric) surgery is due to both a rise in publicity for the obesity treatment as well as development of less-invasive, laparoscopic techniques in recent years.

For example, the annual rate of laparoscopic weight loss surgeries grew 44-fold from 1998 to 2002, compared with a threefold increase for traditional open bariatric procedures.

Researchers say surgery is currently the only effective sustained weight loss treatment for severely obese people. Bariatric surgery involves either bypassing or drastically reducing the size of the stomach in order to decrease the amount of food a person is able to digest or eat.

Weight Loss Surgery: A WebMD Special Report

Weight Loss Surgery Growing in Popularity

Using information from national databases, researchers found the number of people who underwent weight loss surgery rose from 12,775 in 1998 to 70,256 in 2002.

Most of those bariatric operations were gastric bypasses, which increased from 78 percent of all weight loss surgeries in 1998 to 92 percent in 2002.

Other findings of the study include:

Minimally invasive laparoscopic bariatric procedures increased from 2 percent to almost 18 percent of all surgeries. The number of institutions that perform bariatric surgeries rose from 131 to 323. The number of bariatric surgeons with membership in the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons increased from 258 to 631 during the study period.

The results appear in the December issue of the Archives of Surgery.

Is Bariatric Surgery Right for You?

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Nguyen, N. Archives of Surgery, December 2005; vol 140: pp 1198-1202. News release, American Medical Association.