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Outrage of the Month: Modeling For Ads Promoting a Diabetes Pill

Health Letter, March 2013

By Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.


If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!

Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

As a potential adult model, aged 45 to 60, would you like to earn $1,000 for a half day of posing for ads promoting a widely prescribed diabetes pill, Victoza – generic name liraglutide? A talent search agency in South Carolina recently announced a casting call for such people, requesting that interested people send two to three recent snapshots, including a full-length shot, as well as measurements, via e-mail. It was OK, the casting call specified, to be plus size.

The talent search agency described itself as “a development and placement company that connects potential models and talent with regional and national industry professionals.” There was no requirement that the potential models actually have diabetes, but they would be paid well to be part of an ad campaign to convince readers – be they patients with diabetes or doctors – that Victoza was a good choice for treating their diabetes. (Full disclosure: Public Citizen’s Health Research Group petitioned the Food and Drug Administration last year to ban this drug because our research has found that its benefits are greatly outweighed by its risks.)

It is possible, though not very likely, that the models were told about the connections between the drug and serious side effects, quoted below from the company’s Patient Medication Guide:

Serious side effects may happen in people who take Victoza®, including:

1. Possible thyroid tumors, including cancer. …It is not known if Victoza® will cause thyroid tumors or a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid cancer in people. …If medullary thyroid cancer occurs, it may lead to death if not detected and treated early.

2. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which may be severe and lead to death.

If potential models were informed about this, it might allow those with ethical concerns to opt out of a campaign that could well lead to more risks than benefits for people subsequently prescribed Victoza, despite the temptation of $1,000 for a half a day of posing.