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County Plans Will Weigh In On Whether 1-800-GET-THIN Billboards Needs More Truth in Advertising

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Just a day after the FDA said that Lap-Band surgical centers and marketers needed more truth in its advertising about the hazards of weight loss surgery, the Board of Supervisors said it was stepping in, too.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the FDA said they are worried that the ubiquitous 1-800-GET-THIN campaign may be misleading overweight patients into thinking they can get surgery without any major risks. Five patients have died after getting Lap-Band surgeries at centers associated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign, according to the Los Angeles Times, which cited lawsuits, autopsy reports and public records. (Columnist Michael Hiltzik says he thinks the company's new warnings and caveats on its billboards are way too small.)

Ridley-Thomas said the county might consider plans to make sure the advertising on these billboards in unincorporated county areas is "truthful," without trampling on first amendment rights. The county might also come up with its own advertising campaign that explains how to lose weight without surgery. He told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to work with county public health officials to "ensure serious health problems are not trivialized." He said, "I hope the advertisers of Lap-Band surgeries will now take this chance to inform the public responsibly."

Robert Silverman, an attorney who represents 1-800-GET-THIN and the surgery centers, said that the screening process is rigorous. It's not just as easy as picking up the phone, dialing you-know-what and getting a surgery. He says it can take months to go through the process and finally get the surgery.

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"No one gets the Lap-Band [immediately] after seeing a billboard. There is an entire process directed by licensed physicians who have no affiliation with 1 800 GET THIN," Silverman wrote in an email to the Times. The company has said that it will work with the FDA to address its concerns.