‘Barbaric’ and 'dangerous' weight loss device slammed by experts



A world-first weight-loss device developed by researchers at the University of Otago and UK collaborators has been heavily criticised by weigh loss experts as ‘barbaric’ and completely oversimplifying the issue of obesity.

The ‘DentalSlim Diet Control’ is an intra-oral device fitted by a dental professional to the upper and lower back teeth. It uses magnetic devices with unique custom-manufactured locking bolts, allowing the wearer to open their mouths only about 2mm, restricting them to a liquid diet, but it allows free speech and does not restrict breathing. The University of Otago clarified that the device is meant for people who need to undergo bariatric surgery but cannot until they lose weight,

"The main barrier for people for successful weight loss is compliance and this helps them establish new habits, allowing them to comply with a low-calorie diet for a period of time. It really kick-starts the process," said lead researcher, University of Otago Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton. "It is a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures. The fact is, there are no adverse consequences with this device."

“This is very, very dangerous,” said Deanne Jade, founder and principal of the U.K.’s National Centre for Eating Disorders. “Any extreme weight loss device – any of these strategies run the risk of harm unless you’re working with someone who is fully trained to deal with all these issues that can arise from it.” Adding that the device was device is like “a return to the Dark Ages.”

In a study evaluating the device, ‘An intraoral device for weight loss: initial clinical findings, published in the British Dental Journal, seven healthy participants with obesity was cemented to the participants' first molars. The participants were given a commercially available liquid diet for two weeks. The comfort and tolerability of the device were assessed using a quality of life questionnaire during review appointments at one, seven and 14 days and two weeks after device removal.

The participants reached a mean weight loss of 6.36kgs, representing approximately 5.1% of their body weight. The participants had trouble pronouncing some words and felt tense and embarrassed 'only occasionally'. The participants 'hardly ever' reported a change in taste sensation or felt uncomfortable drinking. However, participants indicated that they occasionally had discomfort and felt that life in general was less satisfying. Qualitative analysis showed that the participants were happy with the outcome and were motivated to lose more weight.

"In addition, psychological symptoms may be present, including embarrassment, depression and loss of self-esteem and obese people may suffer eating disorders together with stigmatisation and discrimination," added Brunton. "Alternative strategies are required which may obviate surgery, or which reduce weight prior to surgery and so make it easier and safer. The beauty of it is that once patients are fitted with the device, after two or three weeks they can have the magnets disengaged. They could then have a period with a less restricted diet and then go back into treatment. This would allow for a phased approach to weight loss supported by advice from a dietician allowing long term weight loss goals to be realised."

“It (the device) also completely oversimplifies the issue of obesity, reduces the process of weight loss to a question of compliance and willpower and ignores the many complex factors involved, which may include eating disorders,” said Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for eating disorder charity Beat, in a statement that the device is “incredibly concerning.”

Chelsea Kronengold, associate director of communications for the National Eating Disorders Association, called the apparatus, which is cemented to wearers’ molars, “barbaric.” “This is literally saying that people would rather live a less satisfying life in a smaller body than have a full and satisfying life in a larger or fat body. And that is weight stigma in a summary.”

“What did these people gain from this?” asked Joan Salge Blake, a nutrition professor at Boston University. Salge Blake said her gut reaction was that this was a fat-shaming tactic. “The kicker is, yes of course they lost weight. My goodness gracious, they couldn’t eat. But look what happened when they took it off. Two weeks later they started to gain weight.”

The research team consisted of Professor Brunton, Dr Jithendra Ratnayake, Dr Peter Mei and Dr Arthi Veerasamy, all of the University of Otago, Dr Jonathan Bodansky, of Leeds, and Dr Richard Hall, of RMH Consultancy, Leeds.

Further information

Access this paper