A group of Southern Californian surgeons who specialize in laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, also referred to as weight-loss surgery, used the marketing campaign 1-800-GET-THIN. In the Los Angeles area, billboards, bus ads, and commercials on regional radio and television stations all promoted the 1-800-GET-THIN phone number.
The marketing strategy sparked intense debate and significant condemnation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expressed concerns about the deceptive nature of the marketing, which inflated the benefits of the surgery while downplaying its risks. The financial connections between the surgeons and the firm running the marketing campaign, which was charged with using high-pressure sales techniques to induce patients to have surgery, were also a source of concern for the FTC.
Laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery carries risks of significant consequences include perforated intestines, internal hemorrhage, and death, according to a 2010 FDA warning. The FDA also stated that the procedure is not a quick fix for weight loss and is only meant to treat severe obesity.
Following the deaths of five patients who had the operation, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign in 2011. The owners of the marketing firm that created the campaign were charged with conspiracy and fraud as a result of the investigation.
The group of Southern California surgeons used the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign despite the criticisms and cautions up until 2013, when the FDA forbade the use of the phrase "lap-band" in marketing for weight-loss surgery. The restriction was a component of a larger initiative to control medical device advertising and guarantee that patients are properly informed of the advantages and disadvantages of such procedures.
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