Sales Campaigns for WLS 

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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


    "During the coming months we will advance the LBS Program by reaching out to inform the millions of prospective patients for minimally invasive gastric bypass of the surgical options and the location of LBS Centers where treatment is available. This informational campaign will be Internet-based, via our recently announced co-operation with"

(The co-initiative was NOT with the medical providers but with a company formed solely TO promote surgery in general called "SpotlightHealth". Founded in the 1990's, this corporation is co-owned by Mickey Shapiro, Carnie Wilson's manager and Dr Jonathon Sackier, MD.  They initially had a site called but, in 2001, the site was renamed to  Carnie, who was a bit frightened of the surgery, describes how Shapiro's partner, Dr Sackier, took her into Shapiro's office and told her she'd better have the gastric bypass soon or she will die.  "He scared the SH... out of me" Carnie writes in her book, GUT FEELINGS. Carnie consented to the surgery soon after.)


Note: As of 2002, US Surgical, another corporation manufacturing instruments for laparoscopic surgery has recently hired their own gastric bypass poster patient who has a busy schedule touring the country giving presentation talks.  She is a patient named Barbara Thompson who wrote a book about Weight loss surgery.


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 fee to have Carnie Wilson come to speak at your gathering is $35,000.  Barbara Thompson is probably charging less, perhaps $10,000 per engagement of which she might get 10-20 percent. A good income for the speaker in any case.  (At a net of $1000 to $2000 per engagement and 7 engagements for the month which is very normal for these speakers, that's $7000 to $15,000 per month - far more than an engineer with a Master's degree earns).

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:

Add into this mix the element of advertising for patients, and some physicians begin to question whether the profession is handling this therapy properly.

"You have physicians advertising like crazy. You can't watch television without seeing an ad," said Edward H. Livingston, MD, a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. -This is the highest paying general surgical procedure there is, and a lot of patients will pay." (American Medical Association - 1762 JAMA, April 9, 2003-VoL 289, No. 14)

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.

An expose article on Weight Loss surgery in Self Magazine in 2001, stated that after a TV show on Carnie, the phones of bariatric surgeons all over the country "ring off the hook".  In the two years after Carnie's high profile surgery, the number of gastric bypasses done in the USA doubled from 20,000 done in 1998 to 45,000 done in 2001.  It was estimated that in 2003, 63,000 procedures were done.  And the estimation for 2004 (or hope on the part of providers) is to do 100,000 procedures.

The Wish Center, a large network of WLS clinics (referred to some as "WLS mills") are regularly running a shorter version of the Carnie infomercial during TV shows like Oprah where it is expected a large number of overweight people are watching. (2003)

According to a survey taken by a psychology journal, as high as 80 percent of gastric bypass patients had made their decisions based on seeing poster kids like Carnie Wilson, talk about the surgery.

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).

A good Yahoogroup to lurk is OSSG_off_track  This list has over 1000 members many of whom are gastric bypass patients fighting weight gain.  People researching the surgery are invited to lurk.

A study of 100 gastric bypass patients at the 15 year point showed that the average BMI was over 35, still quite obese.  The majority of the patients complained of daily inconveniences like incontrollable vomiting.

According to a study in Israel in 1993, 25 percent of gastric bypass patients regained most or all of their weight.

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.

Compliancy to strict rules of eating (3 meals a day, no liquid with meals, avoid simple carbs etc) as well as strict compliancy to taking supplements which can include vitamin B12 shots are very important to reduce the risks of catastrophic complications with the surgery.  Sometimes catastrophic complications can happen anyway, even with good compliance and medical care.

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.

Provider comments on how long you live after gastric bypass surgery include "you'll live longer than you would if you were fat - fat people don't live long" or "we don't have any data" (odd considering the surgeries have been done for over 40 years and thousands of them have been done).

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.

The Fresno investigative reporters discovered 27 deaths in Fresno on the last three months of 2001 - deaths directly attributable to gastric bypass surgery but were on the records as deaths from other reasons.

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):

  1. Mayo Clinic Study - May 2000 - reported in "Mayo Proceedings":  20 percent within 5 years of surgery
  2. Livingston Studies at UCLA - 8 years, 800 patients - several studies: 20 to 40 percent complications
  3. Radiologists study - over 300 patients, Dec 2002: 17 percent complication rate

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:

Livingston UCLA studies:
p 175, Self Magazine, April 2001 "Would you have surgery to lose weight?"
(log on  to request reprints on this)

Dept. of Surgery C, Soroka Medical Center, Beer Sheba (Israel study)
Harefuah 1993 Feb 15;124(4):185-7, 248 (article is in Hebrew)

Radiologists study Dec 2003, press release - Radiological society

Obesity Surgery, Vol. 11 No. 4 August 2001, pp 464-468

report: October 21st, at the American College of Surgeons 2003 Clinical Congress - presenter was W. A. Thomasson, PhD

1762 JAMA, April 9, 2003-VoL 289, No. 14 (Journal of the American Medical Association)

Books: (all available at  )

Hart, Dani: I WANT TO LIVE

Thompson, Barbara: A THINNER YOU


Wilson, Carnie: GUT FEELINGS

Other sources available on request