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Ethics Center talk tackles marketing of bariatric surgery

by Mark Schwerin

Oct. 15, 2011 | WMU News

KALAMAZOO--Heather Schild-Vaughan, a graduate student in the Western Michigan University Department of Sociology, will speak at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Room 211 of the Bernhard Center on the modern "cure" for obesity, in a talk titled, "Marketing Ethics on Bariatric Surgical Websites."

The number of obese people undergoing bariatric surgery annually is rising. Bariatric surgery covers a variety of procedures, including implanting a medical device in the stomach or the removal of a portion of the stomach.

The majority of bariatric surgical patients are women who experience a variety of social pressures in United States culture that may play various roles in their decisions to seek out information regarding bariatric surgery, Schild-Vaughn says. The Internet is one way individuals may access information about bariatric surgery from multiple sources.

But many of these sources are pro-bariatric surgical websites that are created by medical clinics specializing in performing bariatric surgical procedures. The websites are created to inform prospective patients, but also seek to "sell" patients on how bariatric surgery may help them lose weight and, ultimately, improve their lives.

Schild-Vaughan's current research involves the roles of communication in the renegotiation of identity for women after undergoing bariatric surgery. In her talk, she will explore the current format and "language" of bariatric surgical websites, why these forms of advertising have proven so lucrative for clinics and whether these strategies are ethical.