Costly Marketing Campaign for Dubious New Diet Drug

By Jan Marie Belle
Member, Rocky Mountain NAAFA, Denver Colorado

In the Friday, October 1st WALL STREET JOURNAL, Page B1 (front page, "Marketplace" section) is a fascinating article headlined "FAT AD BUDGET TO PROMOTE A NEW DIET PILL" by Robert Langreth, Staff Reporter of the WSJ.

The article reveals that Hoffman-Laroche (pharmaceutical company) is planning a massive marketing campaign for their new diet drug, XENICAL, which "works" by absorbing about 1/3 of fat in the food eaten. The cost of the marketing campaign? About $60 million in print and television advertising over the next FOUR MONTHS.

The cost of the drug to the fat person? About $100 per month per patient! Now, let's estimate how many fat people and their docs fall for this, times $100 per month, and we'll see we are not merely talking about a new drug, we are talking a SERIOUS new revenue stream!

What is interesting is the company's worry about the effects of government regulations which mandate that drug manufacturers mention prominently in their advertising any possible side effects.

The side effects of "XENICAL" are pretty gross, and surely potentially harmful: The proposed voice-over to the TV commercial will have a male announcer saying that people eating too much fat while taking this drug "...may experience gas or oil with discharge, increased bowel movements, an urgent need to have them, and an inability to control them."

Oh, this will be WONDERFUL for overcoming social isolation, don't you think?

According to this article, people taking the drug must limit fat calories to 30% of daily caloric intake. More fat than that will lead to the side-effects mentioned above. Eat too little fat, the article notes, and the drug has no effect (it is designed to absorb about 1/3 of the fat ingested).

Listen to this direct quote from the article: "Since Xenical was approved this spring, Hoffman-La Roche has dispatched 1,800 salespeople to doctors across the country to familiarize them with the drug. The goal is to "medicalize" obesity so that doctors and overweight people treat it as a serious medical problem and not merely as a cosmetic issue. Hoffman-La Roche is also doing larger studies to show that the drug can help control diabetes, and to further assess Xenical's effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels." (WSJ, 10-1-99. p.b4; jump from p.b1)

Anybody feel like a guinea pig? Your medical challenge will be next! If Hoffman-La Roche can not only tie Xenical to obesity treatment, but also diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, well, that's nearly every adult person with a health issue in America!

This is another example of how fat drugs are a means of making lots of money for drug companies at fat people's expense with little or no benefit, and oftentimes downright harm (i.e., fen-phen) to fat persons.

Doctors quoted in this article describe Xenical as "useful, but not a breakthrough". A Dr. Michel Myers, weight loss specialist in Los Alamitos California, said his best patient on this drug lost 10% of her body weight in a few months, while another patient actually ganed weight!

We must resist being victimized by these manufacturing and marketing bonanzas. If the whole point of this drug is to reduce fat content of daily caloric intake, and if that's what a fat person and their doc decided to do for the fat person's health, wouldn't it be healthier for the fat person to simply monitor their fat grams, keeping intake at 30% or less of daily food consumption without drugs?

Oh, but I forgot. That doesn't cost any money. That doesn't pay for a multi-billion dollar advertising campaign. That doesn't create a new revenue stream for a mega-manufacturer of pharmaceuticals. That doesn't exploit the cruelty of a fat-phobic society as a marketing helper. That doesn't treat fat people as intelligent beings in control of their own health.

So what are we? I vote for intelligent and in control of our health, I vote for expenditures that affirm me, and I say "NO" to Xenical. Tell your friends.

Jan Marie Belle

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