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Opinion – new ‘weight-loss device’ is not enough to tackle obesity

Researchers have developed a new ‘weight-loss device’ that forces the wearer’s jaw shut, apparently providing a means of slimming down. It has faced significant backlash online.

Remember that scene from the 2005 adaption of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where a young Willy Wonka was forced to wear an intense head brace that wrapped around his entire skull?

It seems that researchers may have taken inspiration from Roald Dahl’s source material with a new ‘weight loss’ tool that forces users to stick to a liquid diet by clamping the jaw shut. It’s called the ‘DentalSlim Diet Control’ and wouldn’t look out of place in a creepy Tim Burton film.

Developed by researchers at New Zealand’s University of Otago, this invention sits inside the mouth and bolts the upper and lower back teeth together, preventing a patient from opening their mouth beyond 2mm.

This means that solid foods are impossible to consume and a strict liquid diet is the only viable way to eat. There is a key that can be used in case of emergencies, such as choking or a panic attack, and it is intended to be used for a few weeks or months at most.

According to the project’s lead researcher, the tool is a ‘non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures’.

Unsurprisingly, health organisations and eating disorder charities think differently – and a wave of controversy has been making the rounds online.


What is the controversy about?

I probably don’t need to explain why people are kicking up a fuss about the DentalSlim Diet Control (such a catchy name, that).

For one, it looks like something you’d find in a serial killer’s basement rather than a dentist’s office, and the extreme restriction of jaw movement is disturbing at face value. This device will affect your ability to speak properly and makes nearly all normal foods a no-go.

It could be argued that these intense, physically debilitating inventions are addressing weight issues at a surface level, rather than tackling the mental struggles that lead to extreme eating disorders.

Each case is unique, of course, but forcing an individual to not eat properly rather than allowing them to make a conscious choice through self-discipline seems short sighted and tone deaf, given the current climate around obesity.

Twitter was quick to throw hands at the University of Otago who announced the creation of the DentalSlim Diet Control a few days ago. Some described it as a ‘torture device’, others using words such as ‘evil’, ‘hateful’, and ‘disturbing’.

The university has since tried to further justify the tool, describing it as a ‘temporary’ solution to help clients with weight loss before surgery. No amount of explaining will make it look less like a costume reject from The Terminator, though.


How does this affect the diet industry as a whole?

While this won’t necessarily shake up the diet industry, it does highlight problems with the way we view obesity and eating issues.

Often we see professional or ‘pragmatic’ solutions to weight gain that fail to examine the societal pressures and educational problems that cause obesity or body dysmorphia. In the UK, for example, the government is attempting to introduce a monthly system in which children are weighed regularly in order to monitor risks of being overweight.

That may sound great in theory, but in the real world this will only contribute to body image issues, overly strict diet control, and damage relationships with food. More needs to be done at a universal, societal level to stop obesity rather than clamping our jaws shut.

Convenience food remains a cheap and easy way to feed families, McDonalds and Coca Cola still sponsor the Olympics, and takeaways continue to enjoy unprecedented popularity with services such as UberEats and Deliveroo.

These are areas that need to be looked at and addressed first. Anyone who’s watched Love Island this year will have noticed the insanely frequent advertisements for junk foods. What chance does a parent have at keeping their children healthy if McDonalds is introducing ‘football schemes’ to get around the advertisement block for minors?

It is frustrating to see academics focus their efforts on physical restraints, rather than calling for better systematic standards and cultural changes.

We should call out innovations like this out as much as possible – before a creepy American doctor wires our jaws and makes it impossible to speak up.

 

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