A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee convening Friday will consider a request by manufacturers of the Lap Band to allow the popular weight-loss device to be used on those who are less obese.
The request by Allergan, the same company that manufactures Botox, will likely prove to be a controversial one, as some say such an approval could push the band further into the realm of cosmetic elective surgery. And the fact that the chairwoman of the FDA committee considering the request owns stock in Allergan will likely do little to quell this controversy.
While the heads of FDA advisory panels do not vote, in this case, Dr. Karen Woods, the chairwoman of the FDA advisory committee making the determination, could stand to gain financially from an affirmative decision, according to ABC News chief health and medical editor, Dr Richard Besser.
"It is disturbing that the person who's heading the review committee has stock in that company," Besser told "Good Morning, America." "Allergan has a lot to benefit if this is approved."
Today, nearly 13 million Americans may qualify for Lap Band surgery, but if the FDA approves Allergan's request, the number eligible for the procedure could spike to nearly 32 million.
In early November, Woods, a gastroenterologist, disclosed financial gains of $10,000 to $25,000 in Allergan stockholdings. Woods' interests were disclosed publicly on the FDA's website, and despite her standing, the FDA granted her a waiver to oversee Friday's panel.
"On rare occasions and consistent with our standard procedures, FDA scientists believe the expertise of a particular scientist is important enough for a scientific advisory committee to justify a waiver for conflict of interest," Meghan Scott, a spokeswoman for the FDA, wrote in a statement to ABC News. "FDA grants the waiver to assure that the panel has the right expertise to provide well-informed recommendations to the agency."
Despite the possibility of Woods gaining financially from the FDA's decision, many experts believe that the time has come to expand eligibility for the weight-loss procedure.
In Lap Band surgery, an inflatable ring is placed over part of the stomach to reduce the amount of food consumed. The procedure is approved for people categorized as morbidly obese, or adults with a body mass index, or BMI, of at least 40, and those with BMI of 35 who have at least one obesity-related health problem.
Allergan has requested that the BMI lower limit drop to 35 for those with no related health problems and 30 for those with weight-related medical problems. Patients categorized as obese but who weigh 34 pounds less than the original indication would qualify.
"I do not believe that when we have an effective procedure people should be denied this choice because of the word 'obesity,'" said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who said even those who are not categorized as obese or morbidly obese may still benefit from the surgery.
Many experts debate whether BMI, or body mass index, is an accurate indicator of obesity. BMI, which is calculated through a height to weight ratio, does not take into account bone density and muscle mass, also important indicators of whether a person who has an otherwise high or low BMI can still be considered healthy.