Thursday 8 July 2010

Speak for yourself, National Obesity Forum

So the British government has decided to stop spending tens of millions of pounds of tax-payers' money on anti-obesity advertising campaigns and instead spend tens of millions of pounds of the food industry's money instead.

From The Guardian :

Beer companies, confectionary firms and crisp-makers will be asked to fund the government's advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle and, in return, will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced today.

I do like the use of the word 'asked' there, like a bank robber 'asking' the cashier the open the safe.

I find it hard to care too much about this. We'll end up paying for it either way and an industry-funded campaign won't be any less effective than Labour's state-funded campaigns. If anything, the industry might end up being slightly less profligate with the money it is forced, I mean asked, to spend.

What did make me choke on my proverbial cornflakes, however, was this :

But Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said he was "horror-struck" about the thought of getting industry involved in funding Change4Life.

He said it was "nothing other than a bare-faced request to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign".

"The quid pro quo is that the department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities."

I'm sorry, but isn't this the National Obesity Forum that is overwhelmingly funded by the pharmaceutical industry—specifically those pharmaceutical companies that make weight-loss drugs? The same National Obesity Forum that consistently defends its sponsors' weight-loss drugs long after everybody else has recognised their dangerous and highly unpleasant side-effects?

Weight-loss drugs like Alli (otherwise known as Orlistat), which has been found to have any number of nasty side-effects:

US authorities are investigating concerns an anti-obesity drug widely available over the counter at chemists may cause liver damage.
Orlistat went on sale under the brand name Alli without the need for a prescription in the UK in April.
The US Food and Drug Administration has received more than 30 reports linking the drug to serious liver injury.

This life-threatening side-effect goes alongside other known problems caused by the drug:

Diarrhoea and gas problems are to be expected if users persist in eating fat while taking the drug.
However, concerns have been raised over the medication's other possible side-effects. The FDA said the most commonly reported adverse reactions included the yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes, weakness and stomach pain.

Lovely stuff. Oh, and there's more...

It advised people who used orlistat [Alli] to seek medical advice if they experience possible symptoms of liver injury, in particular weakness or fatigue, fever, jaundice, or brown urine.
Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, light-colored stools, itching, or loss of appetite.

Alli is made by GlaxoSmithKline, which is one of the National Obesity Forum's most generous donors/sponsors. So who has spent the last few years pushing for this dubious pharmaceutical remedy to be made available over the counter? Step forward the National Obesity Forum (NOF)...

NOF welcomes the decision to allow Orlistat, the weight-loss drug, to be sold over-the-counter and has been working closely with GlaxoSmithKline [GSK] to ensure that its introduction to the market in May runs as smoothly as possible. 

Or take Rimonabant, made by another of NOF's sponsors—Sanofi Aventis. Actually, don't take it. Just know that this drug was launched in 2006 and got a warm reception from—who else?—the NOF.

Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said the drug offered a real opportunity to get to grips with the obesity crisis.
"The launch of Rimonabant is important news for patients who are overweight, with type 2 diabetes, or low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides."

But within a year, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had received 720 reports of unpleasant side-effects, including psychiatric discorders and suicidal thoughts.

Despite a growing body of evidence that Rimonabant was unsafe, it was approved for NHS use in June 2008, leading the BBC to report "Controversial diet drug approved":

An obesity drug has been approved for NHS use in England and Wales, despite links to an increased risk of depression and suicide.
Rimonabant is already used by thousands of Britons, and, coupled with exercise, could help patients lose up to 10% of their body weight.
Scotland and the US have not approved the drug amid safety concerns. However, an obesity specialist welcomed the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) ruling.

This 'obesity specialist' was, of course, an NOF spokesman:

Dr David Haslam, the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said that he welcomed its approval for NHS use, and predicted that it would be prescribed to many patients.
He said: "We can be absolutely reassured that they have looked closely at the evidence and made an appropriate decision.
"This is a very good drug, and there are very many people who have tried everything else, including other drugs, with little success, who might benefit from it."

But within months of the NOF winning the campaign to have the drug approved, the European Medicines Agency said the risk of serious psychiatric problems and suicide were not worth the weight-loss benefits and recommended that use of the drug be suspended. By this stage even Sanofi-Aventis's own research had shown that use of Rimonabant doubled the risk of psychiatric disorders. The drug has never been approved by the FDA in America and it would go on to be banned in India. Still, the NOF defended it:

Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "My patients were doing very well on it, and they will now have to stop and come off it."

And then, as I mentioned earlier this year, there is Reductil, which was taken off the shelves after it was found to cause heart attacks. Reductil is made by Abbott Laboratories, who happened to pay for the National Obesity Forum's website, amongst other things. The ban was initiated by the European Medicines Agency and was supported by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. But, as usual, there was one dissenting voice:

David Haslam of the National Obesity Forum said he was surprised by the decision and knew of no study proving that Reductil had led to a death from a heart attack or stroke.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, the National Obesity Forum can go on shilling for Big Pharma all they like—they may even be right about some of these drugs—but it's a bit bloody rich for them to complain about industry being involved with the anti-obesity campaign and warning about conflicts of interests and qui pro quos. If I was Tam Fry's boss, I would strongly recommend he keeps his mouth shut and hopes no one asks too many questions about their own funding.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. That quote by Tam Fry-up sent me into a similar fit of rage.

Snakey said...

"carbs drive insulin which drives fat accumulation"

An interesting science based discussion of obesity which may change people's minds about the false information put out by the current faddists (such as the National Obesity Forum). Low-carb diets have been criticised in the past but your granny just might have been right when she told you to stop eating all that bread cos it's fattening ;)

Fredrik Eich said...

Why does the government even need to ask industry to cough up money for health messages when it's close to impossible for most people to avoid reading about it and seeing it on TV in any case? This longevity obsessed drivel is everywhere in any case. If I were in industry and I were talking to the government I would just slap some health sections from national papers on the table and say "look this obsession with weight and health is every where already! Why should we pay for more of the same! Leave people alone!Leave us alone! Stop making up reasons to spend our consumers' money!"

but then I am no diplomat!

Willow said...

Thank you so much for telling the truth about the ignoble National Obesity Forum. Surely the medics who are promoting harmful weight-loss drugs in the NOF should be struck off. They could then be remunerated by their pharmaceutical paymasters without top-ups from the NHS.

There is no need for weight-loss drugs to lose weight.

If you are overweight/obese and you try to avoid salt and salty food you will rapidly and safely lose excess weight, because reducing salt/sodium intake reduces the fluid retention which all overweight people have and which is what initiates excess weight in the first place.

Lose weight by eating less salt! – Go on! – Try it! – You will feel so much better! See
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