'People have misunderstood': Inventor of 'torture' dieting device defends his 'barbaric' creation

The 'DentalSlim' device.
The 'DentalSlim' device. Photo credit: University of Otago

Scientists from Otago University say people criticising their controversial magnetic mouth clamp have misunderstood its purpose and "have clearly not read the paper" explaining what it's for.

Prof Paul Brunton's 'DentalSlim Diet Control' device works by magnetically sealing a person's mouth so they can't eat solid food. In a press release, the university called it a "world-first weight-loss device to help fight the global obesity epidemic" and a "non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures".

Twitter users weren't quite so excited, many calling it a device of torture right out of the medieval era.

"I've developed a world-first device to stop you from tweeting some shit like this again," said one unimpressed person. 

The device - assisted by the confronting image the University of Otago used to illustrate it - went global, eating disorder experts in the US telling the Washington Post it was a "return to the Dark Ages", "barbaric" and "incredibly concerning". 

Prof Brunton on Friday said he'd received positive feedback too, but it had been obscured by the negative.

"I think people have misunderstood, unfortunately, our intention and the nature of the research itself," he told the New Zealand Herald.

The device is intended to be used in consultation with dieticians, he said, and wasn't a long-term fix. The university's initial press release said it could be useful for example when a patient needs to lose weight rapidly in order to undergo a medical procedure. 

"People will not be forced to use it - it's a choice - and it's a decision that a person would be able to make for themselves in consultation with medical professionals."

The university's press release also noted it was an improvement on past practises of wiring people's jaws shut, as it could be disengaged in an emergency, such as vomiting; and that none of the trial participants had a problem with it, saying they "felt better about themselves", "had more confidence" and became "committed to their weight loss journey". 

None of this came across in the tweet which grabbed the world's attention. And - as any avid user of social media knows - it's easy for tweets to reach a large audience that never clicks through to read the full story. 

"People have clearly not read the paper," University of Otago nutrition and diabetes expert Prof Jim Mann told the Herald.