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Michael Hiltzik: Thinning your waistline, and your wallet

One wouldn't want to be too moralistic about this, but the American quest for the quick fix has opened doors for smooth-talking pitchmen in dozens of fields.

TV advertisers exploit the market for software to teach us to speak foreign languages like a native and methods to turn our crack-smoking teenage delinquents into candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize in a matter of days. As voters, we enact billion-dollar spending plans on the same ballots where we cut taxes, then we insist that the "politicians" do something about the deficit, and fast. 

No industry thrives on offering the easy solution like the weight-loss industry: diet foods that taste just like key lime pie, pills to keep luscious fats moving through our bodies without taking up residence, exercise devices that will slim our hips in just eight minutes a day. 

Now we don't even have to diet. We can just have major surgery -- get a surgical device implanted around our stomach and let it do the rest. 

The Omidi brothers, who are discussed in my Sunday column, are marketing this device to patients assiduously. Here is the California Medical Board's order revoking Julian Omidi's medical license. Here is the medical board's order placing Michael Omidi on three years' probation. Here is the medical board's order revoking the license of Thomas Cloud, an "administrator" at Weight Loss Centers. And here is Nancy Wambaa's legal complaint about the bill she received.

The column starts below.

One feature of life in Southern California that’s become hard to avoid is the relentless advertising for a weight-loss procedure known as lap-band surgery.

You’ve probably seen the billboards: They feature a willowy blond in a red tank top and the phone number 1-800-GET-THIN in huge red letters. “LOSE WEIGHT WITH THE LAP-BAND!” they say.

These billboards blanket Southland freeways like a giant adipose layer. I’ve counted 17 on one four-mile stretch of Interstate 5 east of downtown Los Angeles. The ads also appear on the sides of city buses, and there’s a TV spot with a jingle (“Let your newww life begin/Call 1-800-GET-SLIM”) I can’t get out of my head, curse it. (The two 800 numbers connect to the same place.)

The ads say the procedure takes an hour, as if you can pop in for a lap-band during your lunch break. In fact, surgically implanting the device requires a general anesthetic and three to four hours of recovery time. Doctors say you can’t resume normal eating for up to six weeks. Nor do the billboards mention the price: $18,000.

The lap-band campaign seems to be some kind of marketing watershed — I’ve never seen anything promoted so ferociously on the L.A. freeways. But is it promoting good medicine?

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik

 
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