Statement of Cindy Pearson

National Women's Health Network

13th Annual Harlan Page Hubbard Lemon Awards

Award for Women's Health Advertising

We are "honored" to accept this year's award on behalf of Nutri/System commercial weight-loss centers.

Millions of Americans -- especially American women-- are in constant pursuit of the magic pill that will make them instantly thin. Many weight-loss centers, including Nutri/System, responded by selling Phen-fen (a combination of the prescription drugs phentermine and fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine). These drugs seemed to be the answer to many people's prayers -- until research revealed a high incidence of heart-valve problems among patients who took the drugs.

Yet the health risks and the fact that both fenfluramine and dexfluramine were taken off the market did not dampen Nutri/System's corporate appetite. The company began searching for new and improved recipes of drugs to keep consumers coming back for more.

In response to the Phen-fen disaster, Nutri/System emerged from its test kitchen with a new advertisement for a combination of phentermine and Prozac called phen-pro. The ads describe phen-pro as a "new, safer prescription combination," claiming that "the risk of being overweight far outweighs the risk of obesity medications" and that "no other diet will help you lose weight faster -- without the risk."

While Prozac and phentermine may be safe when each is used alone, the combination has never been proven safe or effective; not a single controlled study has been conducted. Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration does not endorse Prozac for weight control. Even Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Prozac, told Nutri/System that their 11 advertising campaign creates potential public health issues and could mislead consumers. "

Undeterred by criticism, Nutri/System also promotes "herbal phen-fen," a diet pill alternative for consumers who wish to lose weight using natural products. But Nutri/System doesn't tell consumers exactly what "herbal phen-fen" contains, nor do they warn them of any potential health risks. In fact, "herbal phen-fen" is a combination of St. John's wort, a natural antidepressant, and ephedra, an amphetamine-like stimulant linked to insomnia, chest pain, anxiety, increased blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and even death. The FDA has proposed a rule that would require warning statements on all ephedra-containing products.

In addition, the FDA is warning consumers that "herbal phen fen" has not been shown to be safe or effective. The agency has also announced that it is taking action to remove the product from the market. But in the meantime, Nutri/System is still selling "herbal phen-fen," failing to inform consumers of these risks, and implying that the product is entirely safe just because it is natural.

It is appalling that Nutri/System is taking advantage of people's desire to lose weight by resorting to such irresponsible, misleading -- and potentially dangerous -advertising. The company should not be allowed to make unsupported promises for a drug combination whose safety and efficacy have not been tested, or for herbal supplements whose safety is highly questionable.

Founders - Barbara Seaman - Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. - Belita Cowan - Alice Wolfson - Mary Howell, M.D.

The only national public-interest membership organization devoted solely to women and health.
514 10th St., N.W., Ste. 400, Washington, DC 20004 * 202/347-1140 * Fax 202/347-1168

[ Hubbard Press Release ]