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Is medication the answer to the obesity crisis?

Posted in: Weight Loss 02 Mar, 2012

Qnexa is the name of a new prescription medication that is designed to help treat obesity. It has received a large amount of press coverage since it was first developed, but it has not yet been approved by the FDA in the United States for use. The FDA has cited safety concerns as their reason for delaying approval, and further clinical trials are taking place. Among the media, the expectation appears to be that it is simply a matter of time before the medication is licensed and launched. Is this a good thing?

If Qnexa were to be approved, it would be the first obesity medication to be introduced to the market in 13 years, when orlistat (marketed as Xenical or Alli) was first launched for this purpose. Thirteen years is a long time to wait for a new obesity medication, particularly bearing in mind the fact that there is currently just one available - Xenical - after its competitors were removed from sale following safety concerns. The FDA is as such under a considerable amount of pressure to approve Qnexa and allow potentially hundreds of thousands of patients to attempt a new method of losing weight.

So what’s the problem? In simple terms - safety. Any medication that is given a license to be prescribed is required to pass a series of stringent medical tests to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. In the United States, where Qnexa is being developed, the body responsible for ensuring this safety is the FDA, and they rejected the medication in 2010 on the basis that it had too high a risk of side effects, including birth defects, suicidal thoughts and memory lapses. Vivus, the pharmaceutical company that are behind Qnexa, have responded to the FDA’s concerns by proposing a series of restrictions on the use of the medication, meaning that certain at-risk groups will not be able to use it.

The debate about obesity medications like Qnexa rages on, with one side accusing FDA of being too cautious, worrying that less research will be done on potential new obesity medications if pharmaceutical companies fear the medications will never be approved. In a backdrop of rising obesity, this would indeed be an unwelcome change. On the other hand, the safety of patients should always be the highest priority, and it is absolutely right that the FDA should be as cautious as is necessary when it comes to safeguarding people’s health. Even if a medication is capable of producing significant results in terms of weight loss, this ultimately is irrelevant if the patient were to experience a series of further adverse side effects.

While this argument continues - the FDA is expected to make a final decision regarding Qnexa sometime in April - a further question should also be asked. Is medication the answer to the obesity crisis? It is hard to fathom the amount of resources that are being put into creating new, alternative pharmaceutical answers to the problem of obesity. Surely there is an argument to be made that these resources could be better placed elsewhere, such as in educational programmes to encourage people to eat healthily and exercise or in healthy eating programmes in schools.

Whichever way the decision falls for Qnexa in April, the result is sure to reverberate across both the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, and that’s not even mentioning the people who would actually want to use the medication. Can Qnexa help solve the obesity crisis? Only time will tell.


  • Alexandra ReidMonday, Mar 05, 2012

    Our family, with it's own obesity struggles, believes that there is a combination of issues that cause obesity and that it is going to take a combination of efforts to combat it. From family, community, policy, education and more. There is not a singular fix, no pill nor individual can fix this.

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