Sales Campaigns for WLS
Vista sales double after aggressive ad campaign for Weight loss surgery
The ads say a gastric bypass makes you very very slim, and is an easy way to lose weight forever
In May 2000, the Vista Medical Technologies Company which manufactures laparoscopic instruments for surgery, released a press statement announcing that in the first quarter of 2000, they had doubled their income from that of last year at the same time. In the first quarter of 1999, the Vista Medical Technologies sales were $862,042 and in the first quarter of 2000 their sales zoomed up to $1,796,886.
John Lyon, the CEO admitted that he felt the increase is due to - what he calls - their co-initiative with the Alvarado Clinic which was their first center for laproscopic Weight Loss Surgery. Lyon said they plan a network of clinics similar to the Alvarado Clinic which will offer the same surgery.
He also stated that
The advertising campaign launched by Vista and SpotlightHealth was far greater reaching than only on the Internet and the Alvarado Clinic. Carnie Wilson, after having her surgery on the Internet (and it wasn't really her they showed in the hour long show which played like an infomercial for Weight Loss Surgery) has been a continuing high profile figure in the news media which emphasizes the benefits of Weight Loss surgery but understates the risks. Wilson who lost 110 lbs soon after her gastric bypass in 1999, hosts a support group on SpotlightHealth site and makes appearances, country-wide, on behalf of Spotlight Health and sponsoring hospitals and Weight Loss surgery clinics.
The effort to mass advertise and create a market for major surgery, has not gone unnoticed by the American Medical Association whose comments in the April 2003 issue of JAMA on obesity were less than enthusiastic:
That being said, the campaigns are so successful that it will probably take legislation (similar to the restrictions on pharmaceutical ads) to put a halt on it. Additionally some providers have lowered the requirements for having weight loss surgery thus creating a larger marketing target.
The Glitz ads do not tell the whole story.
For most people, weight loss from a gastric bypass may be temporary: the ASBS expects patients to keep off 60 percent of the initial weight loss IF they change their lifestyle to one of dieting and exercising. But most patients who have a gastric bypass, did so, because they had not had success with dieting and exercising. And for many patients, 60 percent is not enough to take them out of the morbidly obese category. (for instance if they start at 500 lbs and lose 250 lbs, they will likely end up weighing 350 lbs).
Living with a gastric bypass: Adhesions, bowel obstructions, kidney stones, closing or narrowing of the hole between the pouch and the small bowel - these are all usual complications. Patients vomit if they eat too much and food getting stuck between the pouch and the small bowel can take 2 hours to clear, causing a lot of pain.
Expected lifespan after a gastric bypass: Don't see a lot of long term gastric bypass patients around? No one knows more than a couple of individuals over 17 years out from surgery. Advocates of the gastric bypass insist that many patients have "gone underground" and don't tell people they'd had the procedures. No one knows for sure.
Death within a month of a gastric bypass: Also not known is the percentage of surgical deaths - consensus in the last year has put the gastric bypass at the same risk as heart surgery, 1 death every 100 surgeries, but a new study of 62,000 patients showed a 1 in 50 death rate within 30 days of surgery. Many deaths directly attributable to Weight Loss surgery were recorded as due to other causes. This is common across the board, not only with WLS deaths and has a lot to do with the overload of work at the ME's office and more.
Complications: Finally the risk of complications is not known. There are three studies which have been released which attempted to predict complications (this is talking serious complications requiring medical treatment and possibly more surgery and which could be life threatening):
reversibility of the gastric bypass: The gastric bypass is not reversible. It's a permanent change to your digestive tract. They can reconnect the intestinal bypass but once your stomach has been stapled with over 400 staples and literally cut in half, that cannot be restored. This issue is never mentioned in the TV ads and some surgeons are continuing to tell patients that the gastric bypass is reversible.
So people buy surgery from the ads without knowing the whole story.
Finding out about the complications, weight re-gain and inconveniences after a gastric bypass can be devastating. Some patients find the benefits outweigh the risks but for others, they feel their lives have been ruined. Informed consent may cut down the number of procedures but it would raise the number of happy patients and would also reinforce the public's waning trust in the medical profession. Major surgery should NOT be sold like used cars.
News: Reuters and Yahoo news service. Fresno Bee
peer reviewed scientific sources:
Mayo Clinic study:
Radiologists study Dec 2003, press release - Radiological society
1762 JAMA, April 9, 2003-VoL 289, No. 14 (Journal of the American Medical Association)
Books: (all available at www.Amazon.com )
Hart, Dani: I WANT TO LIVE
Thompson, Barbara: A THINNER YOU
Flancbaum, Louis: DOCTOR'S GUIDE TO WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY
Wilson, Carnie: GUT FEELINGS
Other sources available on request