Prescription Politics

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 regulation.

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.

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. Consumer advocates like CSWD have become a force to be reckoned with.

We have 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.

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.


Facts & Figures
Health At Every Size
Take Good Care of Yourself
Good Nutrition
Long Term Diet Failure
Thinness Obsession
Barriers to Treatment: A Patient’s View
Medical Advocacy
Prescription Politics (currently open)
Unbiased Research

Healthy Weight
Food & Exercise
Non-Diet Approaches
Feminism & Weight
Eating Disorders
Body Image
Men’s Weight

Eating & Exercise