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Source: Australian Consumers Association

Xenical (orlistat) is a weight loss drug manufactured by Roche.

Marketing Weight Loss

"One of the things medical people really know about is clever advertising and one of the really clever tricks of the industry is duping the media into running advertising campaigns absolutely free of charge," writes Media Watch of Australia as it deconstructed the "Healthy Weight Task Force," a front group set up by the Burson-Marsteller PR firm in Australia to promote sales of Xenical diet pills.[1]

The Australian government's drug regulator has revoked Roche's permission to advertise its weight-loss drug, Xenical. It was originally approved as a prescription-only drug for those rating over 30 on the Body Mass Index (BMI), or 27 if other health conditions were present. Xenical was later approved for over-the-counter sale, prompting Roche to launch a direct-to-consumer advertising campaign. In December, the Australian Consumer Association sent a woman who was under 25 on the BMI to 30 Sydney pharmacies to request the drug. Twenty-four sold it to her, even though the medical guidelines stated it wasn't appropriate for her. Subsequently, a committee that advises the Australian government's drug regulator, found that "there was insufficient public health benefit" from allowing further advertising. However, instead of reinstating Xenical's status as a prescription drug, the committee allowed continued over-the-counter sales.

Obesity task Force

Ray Moynihan reported in the British Medical Journal that the drug companies Roche and Abbott Laboratories provide approximately two-thirds of the funding of the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), which has over £1m in cash reserves. Roche makes the anti-obesity drug Xenical while Abbott Laboratories makes Reductil. Dr. William Dietz, a senior member of IOTF and "well respected authority on obesity" from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is also a member of a U.S.-based committee reviewing definitions of childhood overweight and obesity. Dietz, Moynihan writes, is "one of the driving forces" behind the redefinition of obesity "which some researchers believe may exaggerate the problem and unnecessarily label children as diseased." Dietz declined to comment to the journal. [2]

Articles and Resources


  1. "Burson-Marsteller's Task Force", Media Watch, ABC TV, September 30, 2002.
  2. Ray Moynihan, "Obesity task force linked to WHO takes 'millions' from drug firms", British Medical Journal, June 17, 2006.

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