Lynn McAfee is a person you want on your side. She is brilliant and dedicated, fearless and loyal. She speaks with the voice of experience about what it’s like to be a supersize person in our society, and she inspires her audiences to make changes in themselves and in their world. She has become an expert on the workings of the pharmaceutical industry, regulatory agencies such as the FDA, the FTC, and the NIH, and on the issues of medical politics and the weight-loss industry.
Lynn has been doing fat liberation (also known as size acceptance) longer than any of us. She was part of the Fat Underground, a Los Angeles-based support group in the late 60’s that used guerrilla tactics to strike at the diet/weight loss establishment. She and a few others disrupted a class on “Behavior Modification for Weight Loss” at a local college, marched up on stage, took the microphone out of the instructors’ hand, and made statements such as:
- Behavior modification does not work. Weight lost on a diet will be regained even with lifestyle changes.
- No known weight loss system works, which has been proven in scientific studies.
- The diet obsession is part of a conspiracy to keep women feeling bad about themselves. The fashion industry, the diet industry, the movie industry, and the food industry all benefit from women’s obsession with thinness.
- We must rise and stand against the oppressor and proclaim that all women, of all sizes, are beautiful.
Although her tactics have changed, she is still that dynamic. When she talks, people listen. And just as we are proud to have her on our side, the companies that manufacture new diet drugs must live in fear of her wrath.
That’s because, as the head of the Medical Advocacy Project of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, Lynn attends meetings of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concerning the weight loss industry and national health concerns. She attends and testifies at Federal Drug Administration (FDA) hearings on new weight-loss prescription drugs. Her goal is simple: to remind the FDA that it is their duty to ensure that drugs and treatments are safe and effective. That simple. To get FDA approval, drugs must be Safe and Effective.
But it’s never simple. The powers-that-be say that obesity is such an unhealthy condition that any side effect from a weight-loss drug is acceptable. So what, they ask, if those who take the drug have a higher risk of kidney disease, or breast cancer? At least they’ll be thin. Lynn simply says that all new drugs must meet the standards of safety. If they cause brain damage or lung disease, they must be kept off the market. She testified against Redux to no avail, and then, a year later, the drug caused many tragic deaths and had to be removed from the market.
Drugs for weight loss must also be effective. This is how the FDA requires testing for effectiveness: One control group does diet and exercise for a few months, and another similar group does the same diet, the same amount of exercise, but also takes the drug being tested. Recent new drugs have terrible scores in this area. People taking the drug lost only 5% more that the group that didn’t take the drug. When you’re talking about prescribing a drug with serious side effects, it really ought to be more effective at helping people lose weight and keep it off.
Lynn also confronts the diet industry with her demand for truth in advertising. She has lobbied tirelessly to ban “before and after” pictures in weight-loss ads. We all know that virtually every dieter regains the weight eventually. If the advertisers were to be honest, they would show “before”, “after”, and “5 years later”. She organized a campaign to pressure the American Heart Association (AHA) to remove an offensive television ad which promoted fear of fat among children and teens.
As a member of an FTC Task Force, Lynn helped draft guidelines for weight-loss companies that included-for the first time-requirements that consumers be told all the costs of the program up front. Although the guidelines are only suggested rather than mandatory, this is an important first step toward consumer protection against the diet fraud that is so widespread in today’s market.
Lynn McAfee is making inroads, forcing people to look at things with a different perspective, and truly changing the world and making it a safer place for those of us who are larger than average. I’m so glad she’s on our side!
–Miriam Berg, President, Council on Size & Weight Discrimination