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|Prescription drug making, and
specifically the manufacture of weight-loss drugs, is a huge,
growing, and extremely profitable industry. Unfortunately, the
profit motive may get in the way of the best research and the best
The Redux and Fen/Phen fiasco is a good example of this problem.
Redux (a component of Fen/Phen) was approved for use as a
weight-loss drug despite evidence of serious increased health risks
[The Council testified against the drug at its pre-approval FDA
hearing]. Millions of prescriptions were written before doctors
noticed serious and sometimes fatal problems with patients' heart
valves. Redux was taken off the market.
If a regulatory agency has a bias against large people, and a basic
prejudice in favor of weight loss at any cost, they may approve
drugs that are less than safe, or less than effective. Our Medical
Advocacy Project points out those biases, and argues for applying
the standards of safety and effectiveness to all drugs, including
The Council's Medical Advocacy Project is represented on important
committees, task forces, and working groups connected with the NIH
(National Institutes of Health), the FDA (Federal Drug
Administration), and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission. Project
Director Lynn McAfee has also established dialogues with
pharmaceutical companies and research teams.
In a study by Consumer Reports magazine, dieters felt more customer
dissatisfaction in weight loss programs than in any comparable
service program. The Council has been working with the FTC and other
advocacy groups to try to work out a way to protect consumers from
diet fraud. In looking through diet ads, the FTC found that more
than half of them give misleading or false information. Medical
Advocacy Director Lynn McAfee spoke at the FTC's press conference
announcing guidelines of proper business practices for weight-loss
companies. Unfortunately, those guidelines are only voluntary, so
the public still has no official protection from fraudulent,
unethical, and fictitious weight-loss claims.
We have been advocates for large people in negotiations with The FTC
and major diet companies. We have not yet been able to make the
regulations mandatory, but we are part of a coalition working to get
weight-loss programs to disclose professional credentials, program
costs and long-term outcome. The first two of these goals is now
part of a voluntary disclosure agreement, and we are working on the
accountability for long-term success rates at keeping off weight
lost. The good news is that the Council's Lynn McAfee was quoted
extensively in news stories about the guidelines. Consumer advocates
like CSWD have become a force to be reckoned with.
McAfee has been organizing the effort to get drug companies to
change their advertising and promotional materials in small but
important ways. One company has agreed to stop using "Before and
After" photographs. These photographs have long been criticized for
the false impressions they give. They imply that one must take that
drug in order to become a smiling, active, popular person, when the
fact is that anyone can look glamorous if enough attention is given
to dress, makeup, hair, lighting, and photography.
You may have seen ads on TV for a new diet drug called Meridia. Our
Medical Advocacy Project convinced the drug's manufacturer to show
several sizes of large people, and to show them as happy, active,
and health-conscious. This drug usually results in a few pounds
lost, and must be taken for life, so it makes more sense to
advertise it with plus-size women than with bikini models playing
Currently known weight loss drugs will not turn a fat person into a
thin person, but it is possible that some might have a place in
medical treatment for obesity when there are serious complications.
We have yet to see a new weight-loss drug that is reasonable
effective, and so far all the new drugs have serious side effects.
But with the money waiting to be made, we can count on drug
companies to be doing the research. We must ensure that they are
studying the biology of body size, and how and why people gain,
lose, and regain weight. It is not enough to look for quick fixes.