Weight-loss surgeons from across the United States are attempting to distance themselves from surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising for Lap-Band surgery.
In a letter to U.S. House members considering a congressional investigation of the Lap-Band and the massive Southern California ad campaign, the surgeons said it’s important to note that not all weight-loss centers are created equal.
They said nonprofit groups, including the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, review outpatient clinics and award the top facilities with a “Center of Excellence” rating.
None of the surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN ads plastered on Southern California roadside billboards and pitched on radio and television hold the “Center of Excellence” rating, according to the Jan. 24 letter, signed by 30 doctors from San Diego to New York.
In addition, the surgeons said, obese patients are best served by weight-loss clinics that offer a variety of options, not exclusively the Lap-Band.
“The recent reports of tragic deaths from the 1-800-GET-THIN group in Los Angeles is an example of a ‘one-size-fits-all surgical approach,’ with devastating consequences,” the surgeons said in the letter.
At least five Lap-Band patients have died since 2009 following surgeries at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
Dr. Michael Omidi operates those Southern California weight-loss surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, according to lawsuits and other public records. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the surgeons’ letter to Congress.
[Updated at 6:02 p.m. Konrad Trope, an attorney who represents the surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, issued the following statement:
"We do not consider a Lap-Band as a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to bariatric surgery. Those who choose to have Lap-Band surgery do so of their own individual choice, after researching the Lap-Band and attending a free seminar that provides them with various weight loss options, including the Lap-Band.
We certainly view the Lap-Band as the best available surgical option to obese patients whose medical profile indicates that the Lap-Band would be appropriate for them. That is because long-term scientific studies have shown that the Lap-Band is about as effective as a gastric bypass, yet is much safer.
It is important to note that any surgical decision is between the patients and their physician, not the surgery centers. Also, prior to surgery, all patients are informed of the risks, benefits and alternatives to the Lap-Band.
In fact, 9 out of every 10 people who attend the free seminars do not go forward with Lap-Band surgery. This hardly speaks of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to bariatric surgery, which is neither the intention of the doctors or beneficial to every individual who attends the seminars.
We are proud to have thousands of satisfied patients who have undergone successful Lap-Band surgeries."]
In a Jan. 20 letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) questioned the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Lap-Band. He said Congress should subpoena documents from 1-800-GET-THIN and Lap-Band manufacturer Allergan Inc.
The letter cited a series of articles in The Times about patient deaths and recent studies that have questioned the long-term effectiveness of the Lap-Band, a ring that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating.
"We believe the Committee should hold hearings to examine whether FDA device regulation has been ineffective in protecting the public from dangerous medical devices like the Lap-Band," Waxman and Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said in the letter.
The surgeons’ letter calling for caution in evaluating the Lap-Band was addressed to Waxman and other members of Congress who could play a role in the investigation.
“As a group that prides itself on the highest standards, we offer our condolences to the families of those patients who have suffered,” the surgeons said. “We urge that patients and colleagues alike focus on a multidisciplinary approach to a complex chronic illness and not rush to condemn a single procedure that has been a vital tool in the successful treatment of thousands of our patients.”