Scientists have been dealing with backlash after developing a “world-first weight-loss device” that locks peoples’ jaws shut and forces them to consume a purely liquid diet. Some Twitter users have questioned the ethics and practicalities of the device, while others have gone as far as to compare it to a "medieval torture device."
The jaw-clamping device, called the DentalSlim Diet Control, consists of magnets that are attached to the bottom and top first molar teeth to restrict the jaw from opening more than 2 millimeters (0.079 inches) wide. Although the device can be opened by the user in an emergency, the idea, apparently, is to keep the jaw near-shut and encourage users to stick to a liquid diet that's lower in calories.
It was created by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand and was recently the subject of a paper published in Nature’s British Dental Journal. The study saw seven obese patients being fitted with the device for two weeks and subjected to a commercially available liquid diet. The findings state the participants lost an average of 6.36 kilograms (14 pounds) and “were motivated to continue with their weight loss journey.”
“It is a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures,” Professor Paul Brunton, lead researcher from the University of Otago’s Division of Health Sciences, said in a statement.
“The fact is, there are no adverse consequences with this device.”
However, not everyone saw the device in such a rosy light. When the press release for the research was posted on Twitter, hundreds of people took to their keyboards to deal out criticism of the device.
“Have you considered wiring the professors fingers together so they can do less of this?” one Twitter user joked.
“And this, kids, is why ethics needs to be taught in science. Good God, I thought medicine was past these kinds of torture devices,” said another.
Others pointed out that the paper notes: "After 24 hours, the participants indicated that they occasionally felt embarrassed, self-conscious and that life, in general, was less satisfying."
After realizing the research was attracting some heat on Twitter, the University of Otago responded: “To clarify, 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.”
“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 dietician,” they added.