FDA Takes Aim at 1-800-GET-THIN’s Lap-Band Ads

Surgery deaths bring added scrutiny to risks

"Let your new life begin" is one promise made in ads for 1-800-GET-THIN, a marketer of lap-band weight-loss surgery. Tragically, five California residents recently died following such procedures at 1-800-GET-THIN affiliated centers, which, along with the firm itself, now face wrongful-death and personal-injury lawsuits, as well as a class-action suit. The Food and Drug Administration this week sent warning letters to the company and its affiliates demanding that potential risks be more clearly spelled out in the outdoor, radio and TV ads, which have become ubiquitous in the L.A. area. (On the billboards, such information is set in type so small, it's virtually unreadable. Yet the fact that insurance can often cover such procedures is clearly visible—twice.) In defense of the firm, attorney Robert Silverman says it's committed to patient safety, adding in a statement: "All individuals who call 1-800-GET-THIN are referred to licensed physicians and accredited facilities where every individual will receive a full and complete disclosure of the risks and benefits of surgical weight loss." The most salient quote comes from Marni Rader, a friend of one of the five lap-band patients who died. She says, "It's not worth losing your life over 20 pounds. [My friend] was maybe a size 14. You need surgery if you're a size 14? That's insanity." True enough. Yet in our looks-obsessed society, with images of hyper-skinny models everywhere, an inordinate number of people seeking a "quick fix" for their own bodies will still pay up to $20,000 and risk a trip to the next life in the hope of slimming down in this one.

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.