The creators said that they created the device, which uses magnets to restrict people "to a liquid diet," to help obese people lose weight

By Julie Mazziotta
June 30, 2021 05:18 PM
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dentalslim
DentalSlim Diet Control device
| Credit: University of Otago

Researchers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom are facing immense backlash over their "weight loss device" that uses magnets to hold the jaw almost completely closed and restrict people to a liquid diet.

The researchers, from the University of Otago and Leeds Teaching Hospitals in England, formulated the DentalSlim Diet Control with "custom-manufactured locking bolts" that stop the mouth from opening more than 2mm. It comes with an emergency key to unlock the bolts in case of panic attacks or choking.

The goal was to address the "global epidemic" of obesity, said University of Otago Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton in a press release.

"It is a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures," he said. "The fact is, there are no adverse consequences with this device."

However, news of the device came with immediate condemnation on social media and from eating disorder experts and nutritionists who argue that it sets a dangerous standard.

"It's gut-wrenching that we live in a society where the medical community is in favor of cementing a magnetic device to someone's molars to restrict their mouth from opening, and therefore eating," Chelsea Kronengold, Associate Director of Communications at the National Eating Disorders Association, tells PEOPLE. "These overt and subliminal messages about losing weight no matter the cost continue to oppress people in higher-weight bodies and perpetuate the harmful notion that being fat is a moral failure."

The researchers touted that in a study of seven "healthy obese participants" who were fitted with the device, they lost an average of 14 lbs. in two weeks, or about 5.1% of their body weight, while on a 1,200-calorie-a-day liquid diet. They gained back around 1.6 lbs. on average in the two weeks after the device was removed.   

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Dietitian and PEOPLE Health Squad expert Dawn Jackson Blatner says that "this may forcibly and barbarically help people lose weight in the short-term, but following a liquid diet is not a healthy, forever solution to a complicated, multi-factorial issue."

"Physically forcing people to follow a liquid diet is a mentally destructive and physically unhealthy strategy that is not a long-term solution," she continues.

Kronengold made a similar point, adding that "a two-week liquid diet does not lend to any meaningful lifestyle changes; rather, it has the counter-effect by setting people up for shame, restricting, and yo-yo dieting — all of which negatively impacts one's health."

After the University of Otago's tweet announcing the study went viral on Twitter, with people criticizing the device, they posted a follow-up tweet to "clarify" its purpose.

"The intention of the device is not intended as a quick or long-term weight-loss tool; rather it is aimed to assist people who need to undergo surgery and who cannot have the surgery until they have lost weight," they said. "After two or three weeks they can have the magnets disengaged and device removed. 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 dietitian."

Kronengold emphasizes that people should not feel as though they need to restrict their food intake to lose weight, and worries about the message the device sends.

"This device is triggering for fat or larger-bodied people, people with eating disorders, and especially fat people with eating disorders," she says. "Through the method of restriction, this device and the people endorsing it are encouraging eating disorder behaviors."

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.