When people ask about losing weight, we usually recommend a classic two-pronged attack: smart nutrition and regular exercise.
Here’s the tough reality, though: Although Americans are joining more gyms than ever, we’re only getting fatter. About 35% of men and 40% of women are obese—meaning a Body Mass Index over 30—and 5.5% of men and 9.9% of women are morbidly obese (BMI over 40). Clearly the ‘strict diet and exercise’ approach isn’t working for some people.
But this is America, dammit, and we’re almost as good at inventing new ways to deep-fry ice cream as we are at creating new techniques to fight obesity. The newest tool in the arsenal: The AspireAssist, a bariatric “obesity treatment” device that literally enables patients to empty some food out of their stomachs after they’ve already eaten it.
The bariatric device, which was approved Tuesday by the FDA, consists of a surgically implanted tube that runs from a patient’s stomach to a small port on their belly skin. About half an hour after a meal, the patient connects a special device to the port, which vacuums a portion of the food they’ve consumed out of their stomach and into the toilet.
Unlike “stomach-stapling” or “balloon” bariatric surgery, which effectively shrinks a patient’s stomach to help them feel fuller with less food, the AspireAssist actually lets a person eat however much they want, and then remove “up to 30% of the calories” before it can be fully digested, according to the FDA.
If that sounds a little absurd, consider this: In a 171-patient clinical trial, patients implanted with the AspireAssist lost about 31.2 pounds on average compared to only nine pounds for non-implanted patients.
“The AspireAssist approach helps provide effective control of calorie absorption, which is a key principle of weight management therapy,” said William Maisel, M.D., M.P.H., a chief scientist at the FDA. “Patients need to be regularly monitored by their health care provider and should follow a lifestyle program to help them develop healthier eating habits and reduce their calorie intake.”
Is it a crutch? Well, yes and no. The AspireAssist is only approved for obese adults—those with a BMI from 35 (obese) to 55 (dangerously obese)—who have already tried and failed to maintain weight loss through non-surgical methods. The FDA points out that it’s designed for long-term use “in conjunction with lifestyle therapy to help patients develop healthier eating habits.” It’s not approved for people with eating disorders, pre-existing bariatric procedures, or heart problems. And side effects included bleeding, irritation, and infection around the implant site, plus pain, nausea/vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and a change in, ahem, bowel habits, the FDA said.
So yeah, emptying your half-digested lunch into the toilet is hardly an optimal method for losing weight. And the bottom line is that the AspireAssist is mostly for obese people who haven’t been able to lose the weight by more conventional means.
But if you’re a regular-sized guy who’s just feeling a little husky and looking to cut down on that beer gut, then you’re gonna have to lose the last 10 pounds the old-fashioned way.