Faculty Scholarship


Slaying the Hydra: The History of Quack Medicine, the Obesity Epidemic and the FDA's Battle to Regulate Dietary Supplements Marketed as Weight Loss Aids

Document Type


Publication Date



This Article is arranged as follows. After this Introduction, Part II documents the public health crisis facing this country from the epidemic of overweight and obese individuals who are at serious risk for Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Part III discusses the remarkable growth of the weight loss supplement industry that tracks the expanding obesity epidemic and points out that this market exists even though a large portion of these products are either ineffective or unsafe. Part IV chronicles the 100 year history of the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]’s regulation of quack medicines and explains how the FDA’s historic transition from post-market policing to premarket prevention protects public health from predatory commercial interests, especially when there is scientific uncertainty over safety and effectiveness. Part V unravels the history behind NLEA [Nutritional Labeling and Education Act] and DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health Education Act] and explains why these Acts were intended by Congress to deregulate products only to the extent that they target healthy populations to maintain or improve a normal state of health. Further, this section explains why interpreting the safe harbor provisions of these Acts to include products that target vulnerable, unhealthy populations is detrimental to public health. Part VI demonstrates how history has repeated itself with an unintended regulatory rollback that opens the door to modern day snake oil salesmen who are contributing to the obesity crisis. Part VII outlines how the FDA can assert its premarket approval process to prevent sham weight loss supplements from reaching the market. [excerpt]

This document is currently not available here.