Skip to main content.

The doctor with the most cake: Lap band surgeon takes the low road

The doctor with the most cake: Lap band surgeon takes the low road

Picture of William Heisel

Anyone who has driven the highways around Los Angeles has seen the giant billboards with a chubby man stuffing a giant piece of cake in his mouth next to the words "Dieting Sucks." It's a promo for a plastic surgery practice that promises to use Lap-band surgery to cure overweight patients.

Tom Naughton wrote a great piece about the insidiousness of the campaign on his blog. Naughton is the man behind the film "Fat Head," which is a counterpoint to Morgan Spurlock's "Supersize Me," right down to the promotional poster.

Naughton deliberately blurred out the name of the doctor's practice on the photo of the billboard he posted on his site. But here it is: Brand Surgical Institute.

Beyond the unseemly billboard campaign, there is another big reason to be skeptical about this place. Spend a little time on the Web site, and you will find not a single mention of any doctor. Even on a hyperlink that says California plastic surgeon, there is no mention of a doctor. If a patient has no idea who the physicians are who are going to be operating on them, they won't be able to look into their backgrounds, ask about their reputations, and find out if they really live up to their marketing materials.

A little digging will show you that the president of the institute is Dr. Shavash Safvati.

I think it would be well worth a reporter's time to look into Safvati's reputation and the reputation of all the doctors affiliated with the institute, although getting that list will prove more difficult.

What kind of medical practice encourages people to essentially abuse their bodies and seek a surgical alternative? And what kind of medical practice deliberately avoids telling their potential patients anything about the doctors involved? Most practices do the opposite. Plastic surgeons love to brand themselves, and they are not shy about publicity. Here is one example.

This place is called "Brand Surgical," but it clearly does not want to make its physicians part of its brand. (Or perhaps they don't want to be associated with its aggressive marketing tactics.)

You might say, "Who cares? These people have an eating disorder. These anonymous doctors are just using an image they can relate to."

That billboard is the equivalent of telling an alcoholic to chug a gallon of antifreeze and sign up for electric shock treatment when he wakes up from his blackout. Or telling someone they should smoke until their lungs are black. They can always get a lung transplant.

Look for the ads in your area and see how plastic surgeons are selling themselves, particularly when it comes to weight loss. The "Dieting Sucks" guy might just be the icing on the cake.


Picture of Cheryl Bame

While I don't always agree with some of the tactics used in advertising, I do have to say that this billboard was effective because you are writing about it, which spreads the message, generates more exposure for the service. Borning ads don't get noticed or even discussed in the media. Someone may be offended by this type of ad, but people relate to this image and it sells that service. Advertiser love when the media critiques its messages or methods because it generates great exposure that a billboard or ad may not generate on its own.

Smart consumers who are shopping around for medical treatment should do their homework. If someone doesn't do a background check on a this type of doctor, it's no fault of the advertiser. This ad calls attention to a major health problem in America and offers a solution. You might not like the solution, but it has worked for many people.

Picture of William Heisel

Those are all good points. And I'm all for solutions to obesity. I know people who have benefited from weight loss surgery, but I think this campaign is reckless. To use another example, you would not see an ad from a DUI lawyer showing a guy with an open bottle of whiskey in one hand and the steering wheel in the other with police lights in the background and the slogan, "Getting busted sucks!"


The nation’s overdose epidemic has entered a devastating new phase. Drugs laced with fentanyl and even more poisonous synthetics have flooded the streets, as the crisis spreads well beyond the rural, largely white communities that initially drew attention. The death rate is escalating twice as fast among Black people than among white people. This webinar will give journalists deep insights, fresh story ideas and practical tips for covering an epidemic that killed more than 107,000 people in the U.S. last year. Sign-up here!


Follow Us



CHJ Icon