The FDA is really down on dubious weight-loss schemes these days. Last week the federal agency cracked down on purveyors of HCG diet products. And now they’re going after companies who advertise gastric-band surgery without adequately explaining such surgery’s potential dangers.
Gastric-band surgery — in which a band is surgically placed around the upper part of the stomach, creating a small pouch that limits the amount the patient can eat at a time — can be a useful tool in helping some people lose weight. But the FDA has taken action against eight surgical centers and a marketing firm called 1-800-GET-THIN LLC for the way they advertise a product called Lap-Band, one of two FDA-approved devices used in that surgery.
The FDA maintains that the flashy billboards and ads on bus placards, in newspapers and all over the Internet paint an overly rosy picture of the surgery’s benefits without calling attention to its risks. Federal law requires ads for certain medical devices, including those used in gastric-band surgery, to include information about precautions, side effects, and contraindications associated with the product and to issue any relevant warnings about its use.
Gastric-band surgery is deemed appropriate only for people 18 and up who are quite obese and who have not been able to lose weight by other means or who have medical conditions resulting from their being overweight. Because the surgery physically restricts the amount of food the stomach can handle, people who undergo it have to make enormous, and lasting, changes to the way they eat. The surgery’s complications can be severe: In addition to the risks associated with any surgery, this procedure can lead to severe nausea and vomiting, stretching of the esophagus and other damage to the digestive organs. And in many cases, the surgery must be repeated to readjust the placement of the band.
So, tell me: Does an advertisement on a billboard have the power to sway you to consider such serious surgery as this? I guess for many folks the answer is yes.