1-800-GET-THIN or 1-800-GET-DEAD? Weight Loss Clinic Charged With Causing 5 Deaths
The weight-loss clinics in Southern California who are famous for their 1-800-GET-THIN ads are now getting famous for something else: wrongful deaths. According to NPR, the surgical centers are under fire for the the death of five patients, which is extremely troubling.
Five Southern California Lap-Band patients have died since 2009 after surgeries at centers affiliated with the advertising campaign, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records. Since then, at least three wrongful death lawsuits have been filed, and the Los Angeles County Coroner is investigating one of the deaths. The California Department of Insurance has also initiated an investigation into allegations of insurance fraud. They claim that the surgical centers are misleading in their advertising, making it sound like people can come in and get a simple procedure that will make them thin.
What they don't tell people in the ads is about the possible consequences of lap band surgery.
Attorney Alexander Robertson, who has filed five different lawsuits, including two wrongful death claims, against the 1-800-GET-THIN marketers and affiliated surgeons, says it's misleading the way they promote this surgery:
“They really preyed on a very susceptible group of the population that obviously would like to look like those skinny beautiful people on the billboards and were told it this is a safe one hour procedure. You come in and get it done and you are going to be thin right away.”
Although not everyone agrees that all of this hype is a good thing. Mona Misra, a bariatric surgeon at L.A.'s Cedars Sinai Hospital told NPR that she's glad regulators are looking into the practices, but many of her patients are now getting the wrong message:
“For a lot of patients, the band might be the perfect operation for them and we don't want them to be afraid of it because they think that it is such a dangerous operation.”
But that's just the point. Lap-Band surgery is dangerous. And people need to know that.
The Lap-Band is a small, surgically-implanted silicone ring that, when inflated, restricts part of the stomach so only a small amount of food can get in. But that band can erode and slip or leak into the stomach. It can also cause inflammation and swelling of the esophagus, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, infections and other stomach complications. What's more, nearly half of the patients who get the Lap-Band end up having to get it removed due to health complications.
The Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter to the 1-800-GET-THIN marketers ordering them to include more prominent safety warnings. The group's website now has disclaimers, but that has not translated to all of their marketing, including these billboards.
People need to know that there is no quick fix when it comes to losing weight. And there is no weight-loss surgery that is completely safe either.
UPDATE: This post has been edited to reflect that there are ongoing investigations into this matter.