Recession Watch: Slow Growth for Breast Implants

Plastic surgeons blame the economy for keeping augmentation from being an even bigger business.

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In a development troubling to economists and teenage boys alike, plastic surgeons expect U.S. economic head winds to limit the number of breast augmentation procedures they perform in 2008.

The projection comes from a team of Merrill Lynch analysts, who found that 77 percent of plastic surgeons blamed the economy for reducing the total number of breast augmentation procedures they did last year, while 80 percent believe economic factors will have a negative impact on the business in 2008.

Still, most surgeons expect the breast augmentation business to grow this year. More than two thirds expect a modest year-over-year increase in procedures. "The docs highlighted several potential drivers of procedure growth," the Merrill Lynch researchers said in the newly released report, "including rising patient acceptance of breast augmentation, increasing awareness of implant surgery, the approval of silicone implants, and growing referrals from satisfied patients."

Not everyone, however, is so optimistic. Fourteen percent of the surgeons expect no growth, and 6 percent predict a decline in the number of procedures in 2008 on account of economic factors.

The report comes on top of a slew of troubling economic developments—including falling home values, elevated oil prices, weak retail sales, and rising unemployment—that have pushed the U.S. economy to the brink of recession. Economists remain concerned that such factors will combine to stifle consumer spending of all sorts, which makes up about 70 percent of the economy.

Although breast implants are not widely considered a benchmark economic indicator, the surgeons' less-than-enthusiastic outlook is more bad news for an economy in need of a little nip-tuck itself.