They’re Back! Big Pharma's Obesity Epidemic

Big Pharma and its allies in the medical establishment are at it again. They’re playing with the rules to turn healthy people into sick ones by bureaucratic fiat, and use the phony obesity epidemic they created to do surgery on your wallet. If you don’t think they can get away with it, consider what they’ve already accomplished.

The Phony Obesity Epidemic

You may remember that a number of years ago, they fiddled with the so-called “body mass index”, or “BMI,” which is used to determine the proper weight for a given height. Depending on where you were on the index, you would be classified as having a normal weight, being underweight, or being overweight. What they did was shift the dividing lines to the left, reducing the allowable weight for a given height by ten pounds.

Now that doesn’t sound like much, but the effect of the change was to transform tens of millions of Americans, who, the day before, had been judged as having acceptable weights for their heights into people who were overweight, or even obese!

So what you might say.

The trouble is that this shift in the BMI laid the groundwork for all of the fanfare about an “obesity epidemic.” Once the false notion of a nation of porkers was well-established, Big Pharma was able to get obesity classified as a disease, and therefore be reimbursed by health insurance for anti-obesity drugs and surgical procedures. Indeed, in addition to those already on the market like Xenical and Meridia, at present, there are at least 35 new anti-obesity drugs in various stages of development. In addition, last year, over 140,000 gastric bypass surgeries were performed, despite the one in 200 risk of fatality. In addition, roughly 35,000 individuals opted for the less risky surgical implantation of a gastric lap band. And most of these procedures, which can cost upwards of $35,000, will be paid for by the nation’s health insurers, which in the end means higher premiums for you and me.

Now this isn’t to say that many of us eat more than we should, are more likely to reach for the remote than a barbell and are carrying a few extra pounds. But there’s a world of difference between that and being morbidly obese (defined as more than 100 pounds overweight). Indeed, one side-effect of the constant fanfare about weight loss has been a real epidemic of eating disorders among young women who are obsessed with being thin and are falling victim to bulimia and anorexia! What makes the transformation of weight control into an “epidemic” even more disturbing is the latest move by the FDA to give tentative approval for an over-the-counter (OTC) version of the weight loss drug Xenical. Since the OTC version is the same medicine at half strength all one needs to achieve a prescription level dose of the medicine is to take twice as much of the OTC version as recommended. The trouble is that many people mistakenly believe that “more is better” and without a physician’s supervision could easily overdose on the drug.

But obesity is not the only instance in which Big Pharma “cooked the books” to create an epidemic. Basking in the success of their fiddling with the BMI chart, they took on another potentially lucrative target: cholesterol.

Most people have some notion that having high cholesterol can be a bad thing. Some even know that there is a “good” cholesterol and a “bad” cholesterol. Beyond that, most people simply follow their doctor’s recommendations. What they don’t realize is that to a surprising degree, what their doctor recommends is not based on his own medical judgment, but rather on arbitrary guidelines established by, you guessed it, Big Medicine.

And Big Medicine, of course, is in bed with Big Pharma.

As with weight levels, what they did was to change the rules. Until the change, “high cholesterol” was defined as having a combined “good,” or HDL cholesterol and “bad” or LDL cholesterol number of over 300. When your tests showed you at this level, according to the rules it was appropriate to put you on medication. Between a combined figure of 200 and 300, it was recommended that you modify your diet and increase your exercise to lower the number. What they did was to change the recommendation to introduce medication if your combined figure was over 200. All of a sudden, 65 million Americans who did not require medication the day before the change, now did. Moreover, IF A DOCTOR DID NOT FOLLOW THE RECOMMENDATIONS HE WAS COMMITTING MALPRACTICE!!!

With just these two changes, Big Pharma picked up 100 million additional customers!

But they still weren’t done!

The next target was yet another common health concern: blood pressure.

For decades, high blood pressure, officially known as “hypertension,” was defined as more than 140/90. The first number is what is called “systolic” pressure, which measures the pressure of blood in the arteries and veins while the left ventricle of the heart is contracting, and the second number when it is relaxed, or dilated. Generally, even at levels around 140/90, physicians would try diet and exercise to lower blood pressure before turning to medication. Blood pressures of up to 130/90 were considered within the range of “normal.” But Big Pharma and Big Medicine had a “better” idea.

They decided to invent a new disease out of whole cloth.

In 1997, they created “prehypertension.” In other words, you didn’t have high blood pressure, but you might. They then proceeded to define “prehypertensive” as having a blood pressure between 130/85 and 130/89 – a level previously acceptable. They then changed the definition of “normal” to blood pressures of 129/84 or below.

As was the case with changing the rules to define obesity and high cholesterol, millions of healthy people were again defined as “sick” by bureaucratic fiat. But their greed still wasn’t satisfied.

In 2003, Big Pharma and Big Medicine got together to change the rules yet again, expanding the category “prehypertensive” to include those with blood pressures of 120/80 or higher – a level that had not only been viewed as “normal,” but as the target patients should try to achieve!

Of course, each time the bar was lowered for what was considered “prehypertensive” it was also lowered for the introduction of medication.

Mind you, the typical blood pressure of North Americans, according to a 2003 study, was 127/77 – “prehypertensive” under the new definitions. Moreover, compared to other parts of the globe, we were doing an outstanding job of controlling hypertension. Only about 28 percent of Americans and 27 percent of Canadians had blood pressure readings of 140/90 or higher. In contrast, 55 percent of Germans, 49 percent of Finns, 47 percent of Spaniards and 42 percent of Great Britain’s population had measurements exceeding 140/90! Indeed, the average blood pressure in Europe is 136/83.

But Big Pharma and Big Medicine still aren’t satisfied!

Never mind that mortality rate from strokes (hypertension is a major cause) in North America is 27.6 per 100,000 population as compared to Europe’s 41.2 per 100,000 population, or that North Americans fare better in most other indicators of cardio-vascular health. If Big Pharma says you’re sick, you’re sick!

Still, we apparently weren’t sick enough. So what to do? Simple, you just start moving the bar again.

And that’s what they’re trying to do.

Quietly tucked away in the literature announcing the latest reduction in “normal” blood pressure readings is the assertion that an acceptable blood pressure should be 115/75 – roughly the reading for a teenager!

Now that number isn’t official – yet. But statements about “normal” levels of anything are not made lightly by the medical establishment or its allies. You can be as sure that it will eventually become the “official” recommendation as you can that the sun will rise tomorrow!

And that isn’t the only nugget hidden away in the official recommendations on blood pressure. Another concerns treatment.

For decades, the first therapy recommended if diet and exercise failed to lower a patients blood pressure was a course of diuretics, the most common being hydrochlorothiazide. The trouble is that this common drug has been around so long that its patent has long expired, and it is readily available in cheap generic form. The word “generic,” of course, is an anathema to Big Pharma. Generic translates into less expensive and less expensive means lower profits – a concept Big Pharma finds abhorrent.

So what to do?

Simple, as with other aspects of high blood pressure treatment and diagnosis, change the rules!

Now, instead of trying a simple and inexpensive diuretic, the recommendation is for a “two drug therapy.” What this means in plain English, is to give the patient a patented and therefore profitable branded prescription drug along with the diuretic. And remember, medication is generally recommended when a patient’s systolic blood pressure is 20 points above what is considered “normal.”

If the bar is lowered to 115/75, this means that people with a blood pressure reading of 135/85 would be put on medication. This despite the fact that these same people previously would have been treated exclusively with diet and exercise, and, before 1997, would have been viewed as having a reading within normal limits! Further, the medications themselves are not without side effects, potentially exposing large segments of the population to unnecessary risk!

But it is not just a potential change in the hypertension rules that is tucked away in the report. Another potentially more threatening change relates to cholesterol.

When Big Pharma had the bar lowered for acceptable levels of cholesterol, it reaped a bonanza in sales of the new statin drugs earning $20 billion annually. Hailed as a godsend, ads on television and in the print media trumpeted their ability to reduce “bad” cholesterol levels. What was initially hidden and later underplayed in these ads was the incidence of serious side effects, especially a form of muscle weakness called statin Myopathy. Estimates indicate as many as one in four statin drug users may experience serious side effects. In fact, up to 75 percent of patients for whom statins are prescribed discontinue them due to side effects! But this is something Big Pharma will never tell you.

This brings us to the second little nugget hidden away in the new blood pressure recommendations. In the National Committee on Prevention, Detection and Evaluation of High Blood Pressure’s Seventh Report, the document outlining the new rules, there is a table on cardiac risk that indicates the acceptable level for a combined cholesterol reading is 180 – 20 points lower than the official number. As with the lower blood pressure figure, this number is not yet the “official” target, but rest assured, it will be!

The implications of lowering the bar yet again are clear. It will lower the point at which your doctor will be COMPELLED to prescribe these dangerous medications.

Don’t forget that once a recommendation becomes official, a physician who fails to follow the guidelines is committing malpractice. So they really don’t have a choice no matter what their personal feelings may be.

In a way it is not surprising that the stage is being set for a change. Statin drugs are among the most profitable items Big Pharma has in its product lines. Indeed, they have been pushing them for a wide range of so-called “off-label” uses.

Off-label use entails a physician prescribing a medication for some illness other than the one it was originally approved to treat. It is a common practice that takes advantage of a loophole in the way regulations work that most people don’t know: once a drug is approved for any use, a doctor can prescribe it for any purpose he decides is appropriate. In one example, approximately 80 percent of the prescriptions for the drug Neurontin, a medication approved for the treatment of epilepsy, are for off-label treatments.

Today, statin drugs are being promoted as treatments for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer! There’s even talk of having doctors give their healthy patients a “super-pill” that is a cocktail of statin drugs, blood pressure drugs and other medications as a preventative measure!

But even if such insanity doesn’t take place, you can be sure that Big Pharma is going to at a minimum push to lower the acceptable level for combined cholesterol to 180. What will this do?

It will create millions of new patients, and, more important from Big Pharma’s viewpoint, protect what they’ve already gained.

A dirty little secret Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know is that Americans have been doing a terrific job of lowering their cholesterol levels all by themselves. Indeed, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year found that the average cholesterol among men aged 60 to 74 had dropped from 232 to 204 between the early 1960s and the 1990s. More important, “bad” cholesterol levels dropped significantly during this period.

Now if the national average dropped to near 200 – below which cholesterol levels are acceptable under current rules that would mean that tens of millions of people now required to take statin drugs would no longer need them. That, in turn would jeopardize Big Pharma’s latest cash cow – something they are not about to permit.

Besides the overall drop in cholesterol levels, the study had other bad news for Big Pharma.

The decline in cholesterol levels was not limited to older Americans. In fact, all adults from age 20 to 74 experienced the same phenomenon. Even worse, while “bad” cholesterol levels declined, “good” cholesterol levels did not. As a result, the ratio of “good” to “bad” cholesterol improved something statin drugs are prescribed to accomplish.

As if this weren’t enough bad news for Big Pharma, the study also reported that by 2002, the number of Americans with cholesterol readings above 240, the critical level for statins had fallen to 17 percent of the population, achieving the goal the government had set for 2010. The study also noted that deaths from heart disease dropped from nearly 800,000 in the early 1980s to 650,000 in 2002.

As for statins, one of the researchers noted “… if you put statins in the water supply, cardiovascular disease would still be the leading cause of death in America.

It’s enough to drive a Big Pharma executive to drink.

That’s why they want to change the rules. If they can’t find a legitimate reason for you to buy their product, they’ll simply make one up. Sure, the side effects of the drugs you end up taking might have side effects that cause problems as bad or even worse than those they’re supposed to treat, but Big Pharma has an answer to that problem: more drugs!

In the final analysis it boils down to one single fact: Big Pharma has always put profits ahead of patients and it always will – at least until the public puts pressure on its elected officials to put a stop to the abuse. There is all the more reason to do so with the new Medicare prescription drug benefit coming into effect. It’s the Medicare-eligible population that is most likely to be prescribed cholesterol or blood pressure lowering medications, and most likely to be diagnosed with obesity. If we allow it, Big Pharma will turn this benefit into a new cash cow by simply changing the rules. But if that happens, and we have not spoken up, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.