Desperate dieters are increasingly turning to Canada for the intragastric balloon, a popular weight-loss technique available in much of the world but not approved by the FDA, reports the New York Times. Less invasive than gastric bypass surgery or gastric bands, the balloon—inserted in an outpatient procedure—involves placing a liquid-filled balloon into the stomach to reduce hunger. The balloon is usually removed after about six months, and costs $8,000 in Canada, a fee that includes both the initial placement and final removal. Canadian clinics say that Americans account for one-third of the procedures.
A similar procedure used to be available in the US in the 1980s, but it was off the market by 1992 due to problems with the balloons and questions about efficacy. Critics say the balloon is dangerous, and there is little evidence it is any more effective than regular dieting and exercise. People using the intragastric balloon typically lose between 14 and 34 pounds, although some report losses up to 50 pounds. “That’s the most common complication—not losing as much weight as the patient would like," said the doctor who pioneered the procedure in Canada. (Read more dieting stories.)