Controversial "Weight-Loss Device" That Locks Jaws Shut Sparks Outrage Online

Researchers hoping to combat "the global obesity epidemic" are facing backlash after their solution to the problem—a magnetic device that stops people from opening their mouths wider than two millimeters—was hailed as deeply problematic by social media critics.

On Monday, the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand issued a press release about the device. According to the release, the researchers worked with a U.K. team to develop the new weight-loss tool. As they reported, the "DentalSlim Diet Control," is "an intra-oral device fitted by a dental professional to the upper and lower back teeth" that "uses magnetic devices with unique custom-manufactured locking bolts." They added that "it allows the wearer to open their mouths only about 2mm, restricting them to a liquid diet, but it allows free speech and doesn't restrict breathing."

The researchers said that in their trial of the DentalSlim Diet Control, the results of which were published in The British Dental Journal, participants "lost an average of 6.36kg [14.02 lbs] in two weeks and were motivated to continue with their weight loss journey."

"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 Prof. Paul Brunton, the project's lead researcher. "It is a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures."

Otago and UK researchers have developed a world-first weight-loss device to help fight the global obesity epidemic: an intra-oral device that restricts a person to a liquid diet. Read more:

— University of Otago (@otago) June 28, 2021

On social media, however, many haven't taken too kindly to the suggestion that people should be locking their jaws shut for a period of time in order to jump-start weight loss. Some, for example, compared the tool to a "medieval torture device," while others are saying the "dystopian" and "comically evil" method is a prime example of "fatphobia" at work.

"What year is it? Are you gonna recommend tapeworms next?" read one sarcastic response.

"They literally want to wire people's mouths shut to avoid gaining weight and people are still questioning if fatphobia exists?" a Twitter user added.

Several others said that in addition to being fatphobic, they felt the device didn't adequately address the complex socio-economic factors present in the so-called "obesity epidemic."

"We COULD start by not fat-shaming and generally educating people about having a healthy relationship with food," read one tweet.

"There is no global obesity epidemic. Obesity is an arbitrary designation dependent on the BMI, which is not applicable to most of the global population for many reasons," another Twitter user added. "The reality is more people die from hunger than 'obesity' even in the UK. Where is the funding towards that?"

While researchers working on the study claimed their innovations are new, many on social media pointed out that wiring people's jaws shut for weight loss was a common practice in the 1980s that came with serious risks.

The University of Otago, however, appears to have responded to the controversy in a series of follow-up tweets, clarifying that "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 added: "After two or three weeks they can have the magnets disengaged and the 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 dietician."

Newsweek attempted to contact Brunton at the University of Otago for further comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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