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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to a California marketing company known as 1-800-GET THIN and to eight other affiliated weight-loss surgery centers, for using misleading advertising to promote Lap-Band weight-loss surgery. The company posted numerous billboard advertisements using slender models touting slogans such as “Let Your New Life Begin!” which FDA believes “fail to convey” the dangers of weight-loss surgical procedures. While the companies’ warnings about the procedure are present, they are so small as to be illegible and fail to warn the consumer adequately. FDA’s warning letters give the companies 15 days to determine how to correct the misleading advertisements.

Steve Silverman, FDA director of the investigation into 1-800-GET THIN’s practices, said, “They’re speaking to a very vulnerable patient population, people who are obese have often struggled through their whole lives to lose weight.”

Concerns were voiced to Los Angeles County Health Department noting five patients in southern California died since 2009 after undergoing weight loss surgery at centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. Complaints also came from Allergan, which manufactures the Lap-Band device used in the gastric banding surgery, noting “the risks of the surgery were not properly communicated.”

According to The Los Angeles Times Healthland article by Meredith Melnick of December 14, 2011, “patients’ deaths and injuries have also prompted a series of wrongful-death and personal injury lawsuits against 1-800-GET-THIN, its affiliated surgery centers and doctors who performed the procedures. There’s also a class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of patients, that accuses 1-800-GET-THIN of false advertising for failing to adequately disclose risks of the surgery and disciplinary problems of some affiliated doctors.”

It appears as if there is a subset of physicians and surgeons treating these surgeries like a "drive-thru" surgical center, and the advertising looks to be about as tasteful. Treating a surgery, any surgery, lightly, without disclosing the many risks and potential complications involved, including death, is quite a risk in and of itself, for both the patient and the surgeon. Hopefully, this up-and-coming medical "industry" will conform to the appropriate standards of care for the states in which they opeate. There is no simple or completely safe surgery, especially when one's internal organs are involved.

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