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Soc Sci Med. 2006 May;62(10):2445-57. Epub 2005 Nov 14.

Internet marketing of bariatric surgery: contemporary trends in the medicalization of obesity.

Author information

  • 1Pritzker Medical School and the Committee on the History of Culture, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA. tsalant@uchicago.edu

Abstract

In the context of political, economic, and scientific anxiety around the 'epidemic' rise in obesity in the US, the social and historical forces engendering the medicalization of obesity have been widely discussed. However, the recent growth of bariatric-weight loss-surgery and the expanding presence of advertising for bariatric surgery on the Internet suggest the possible emergence of new loci and languages of medicalization. We sought to identify the nature and extent to which web advertising of bariatric surgery contributes to the medicalization of obesity by examining the design and textual content of 100 bariatric surgery center websites. We found that websites, through strategic use of text and images, consistently describe obesity as a serious disease that requires professional ascertainment and supervision, entails substantial individual suffering, and is remedied through the transformative yet low risk effects of bariatric surgery. In the process, social normalcy and risk reduction come to replace physical criteria as the basis for determining health. Further, websites draw upon contradictory discourses of medicalization; that is, they insist upon 'external' (e.g. genetics, environment) causes of obesity to legitimize surgical intervention while implicating individual behaviors in surgical failure. From this, we suggest that the economic and professional motivations underlying website advertisements for bariatric surgery may result in confusing messages being sent to prospective patients as well as the perpetuation of gendered notions of obesity and the entrenchment of health disparities.

PMID:
16289735
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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