03/15/2012 11:15 am ET

Weight-Loss Surgery Ads Vanish From L.A. Freeways After Government Warnings

Controversial billboard ads for stomach-shrinking surgeries have vanished from the freeways around Los Angeles amid concerns about dead patients and scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration.

A "lap-band" surgery marketing company called 1-800-GET-THIN didn't renew its contracts with billboard owners like Clear Channel and Lamar Advertising, reports the Los Angeles Times. The billboard companies confirmed to the newspaper that the ads wouldn't be returning but 1-800-GET-THIN didn't respond to requests for comment from the Times.

Lap-band surgery, also known as laparoscopic adjustable gastric-banding surgery, helps patients lose weight by making their stomachs smaller so they feel full sooner. Surgeons wrap a ring around part of the stomach so it can't hold as much food. The procedure is FDA-approved for adults diagnosed with obesity who have heart disease or other health problems caused by their weight.

After five patients died following weight-loss surgeries performed by doctors connected to 1-800-GET-THIN, the FDA, California authorities, and lap-band manufacturer Allergan raised alarms about the ad campaign. The billboards didn't warn about the risks of the surgery and appeared to be aimed at people looking to lose weight for cosmetic reasons, not people who are obese, according to the FDA.

Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the U.S. and lap-band surgery is one of only a few medical or surgical options available to people who need to lose large amounts of weight for their health.

But it's not without risks. Lap-band surgery side effects include the band slipping loose or leaking which leads to more surgery, the stomach or the esophagus stretching out, and patients having trouble digesting, according to the FDA.

Several 1-800-GET-THIN ads were still up on billboards owned by CBS Outdoor and a company called also has billboards displayed near Los Angeles-area freeways, noted the Times.