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Tabloid TV Weight Loss

Annona Pearse
From a media perspective

Issue 45: February 2006
Page: 1 of 1 Author's Profile | Send to a Friend | Printer Version

The availability, or lack thereof, of Xenical tablets was raised on the 'current affair' program Today Tonight (4/1/2006).
The primary definer of the report was Herbalist and Pharmacist Gerald Quigley.
The combination of such professional qualifications defines Quigley as both trusted in terms of his scientific knowledge of medicines, and 'new-age' in terms of his ability to embrace naturopathy.
Quigley argues that making an informed choice is difficult for people trying to lose weight because scientifically proven weight loss products are medicines, and as such, cannot be advertised and displayed in the pharmacy.
The result, according to Quigley, is that people waste money on unproven products.

Quigley's, and by correlation then, Today Tonight reporter Dr John D'Arcy's argument is that herbal or alternative remedies for weight loss cannot be trusted.
So Quigley is wearing his pharmacist's hat for this report, not his Herbalist hat.
It begs the question of how Quigley promotes herbal remedies that are, more often than not, 'un-scientific' in their beneficial claims.

Xenical, medically trialled with 48,000 people, stops 30% of the fat eaten being absorbed when combined with a controlled diet and exercise.
The benefits of Xenical are not in dispute.
As a weight loss product it has been proven to be effective and safe.

What is at issue however is the blatant endorsement of a prescription product.
Surely the past year has been about keeping products selectively within pharmacy, rather than have them go open market, or should that be 'supermarket'?
By displaying and advertising Xenical the need for pharmacist consultation gradually diminishes.

Initial counselling may be required, but eventually such counselling becomes an acknowledgment of purchase to the point where the product may as well be available in aisle 12 of the supermarket as anywhere else.
And what of the ethics of endorsement of a product such as Xenical?
While the audience of Today Tonight might regard Gerald Quigley as benign perhaps other medical professionals may not regard him in the same way.

The relationship between Roche (makers of Xenical) and Quigley may be questioned with regard to gains on both sides.
The end result is not a professional approach to the issue of weight loss, but rather a tabloid attempt at product promotion.

A visit to the web site of Today Tonight reveals a substantial list of diets and weight control programs that include items such as 'Sleeping off the Kilos' and 'Eating in your sleep' to name but two.
Today Tonight and other similarly styled programs often report on 'quick fix' solutions to what are essentially complex issues, and weight loss and diets feature high on their lists of program content.

To illustrate the point, the report following that on Xenical was about law and order breakdown in the NSW town of Kempsey.
The solutions according to the interviewees on Today Tonight?
More police and tougher jail sentences - quick fix solutions to complex problems.

Pharmacy Guild Public Communications
It is very encouraging that Carolyn Jack has joined the Pharmacy Guild as Communications Director.
Her credentials are impressive, as a former media adviser to the Prime Minister and as Manager of Public Affairs at the Australian High Commission in London.
It is hoped she can give pharmacy a professional media image rather than the mixed messages it has been sending out over the past 12 months.

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