Human Interest

Diet culture has led to some dangerous ways to supposedly help people to lose weight, and this one is one of more extreme examples of that: researchers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom say they are fighting the “obesity epidemic” by locking people’s jaws shut.

They’ve come up with a magnetic contraption that is installed in the mouth; the goal of the device is to restrict its wearers to a liquid-only diet. In case the user has a panic attack or chokes, rest easy because there is an emergency key to unlock it.

Paul Brunton, lead researcher of New Zealand’s University of Otago’s study said in a news release Monday (June 28) that the device helps “kick-start” the dieting process.

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

Per the Washington Post, nutrition and eating disorder experts disagree with these claims. Deanne Jade, founder and principal of the U.K.’s National Centre for Eating Disorders, said the device is like “a return to the Dark Ages.”

“This is very, very dangerous,” Jade said. “Any extreme weight loss device — any of these strategies run the risk of harm unless you’re working with someone who is fully trained to deal with all these issues that can arise from it.”

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for eating disorder charity Beat, said in a statement that the “lockjaw” device is “incredibly concerning.”

“It also completely oversimplifies the issue of obesity, reduces the process of weight loss to a question of compliance and willpower and ignores the many complex factors involved, which may include eating disorders,” Quinn said.

Chelsea Kronengold, associate director of communications for the National Eating Disorders Association, called the apparatus, which is cemented to wearers’ molars, “barbaric.”

“What did these people gain from this?” asked Joan Salge Blake, a nutrition professor at Boston University. Salge Blake said her gut reaction was that this was a fat-shaming tactic.

The study compared the device to the practice of jaw-wiring, which was popular in the ’80s but fell out of favor as patients developed gum disease and psychiatric conditions. The researchers said this new implement avoided several of jaw-wiring’s pitfalls.

Participants reported occasional discomfort and feeling that life in general was less satisfying during the study. “This is literally saying that people would rather live a less satisfying life in a smaller body than have a full and satisfying life in a larger or fat body,” Kronengold said. “And that is weight stigma in a summary.”

Folks on Twitter were also against the use of the device, with many calling it a “torture device:”

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