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Howard Beales, former Director of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, speaks during a news conference to announce action against direct marketers of weight-loss products with false advertising claims in 2003. The FTC filed charges on three individuals that overstated the benefits and understated the risks of using their weight-loss products.
The FDA may soon approve Qnexa, the first new weight-loss pill to hit the market since 1999. An advisory council overwhelmingly recommended Qnexa to be approved last month.
Today, another panel will discuss some of the health risks the drug poses, and which patients should be allowed to receive the drug. A decision on whether the pill should be on the market is expected next month.
"The drug, in fact, isn't very good," said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center in an op-ed in the Huffington Post. "True, it does produce a weight loss of roughly 10 percent of body weight over a year or two in clinical trials, and does outperform placebo -- but so does every weight-loss drug ever tested."
Numerous weight loss drugs in the past have been found to have dangerous side effects, causing the FDA to reject them or remove them from the market. Fen-phen had to be removed from the shelves in 1997 because it was linked to heart problems. Qnexa itself was initially rejected by the FDA in 2010. But despite a history of problems, there still remains an unrelenting demand for anti-obesity drugs.
"Obesity is highly prevalent and although fixing it is simple, it's not easy," said Katz on the Madeleine Brand Show. "Two-thirds of the population are overweight or obese so there's a clamor for a solution, because the problem is so big and fixing it the old fashioned way by eating better and being active takes a lot of work that many of us can't find the means to do."
People with severe obesity problems often turn to bariatric surgery to lose weight, and studies have shown that these invasive procedures work well and can reverse Type-2 Diabetes. However, Katz says that surgery should only be used as a last resort. Same thing goes with diet pills.
"There's a real danger here if we distract ourselves into thinking that the solution to epidemic obesity is through pharmacotherapy. That everyone's going to take a drug," said Katz. "We really do need to focus on policies and programs that enable people to eat well and be active and reserve pharmacotherapy for those rare cases of extreme need."
Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.