Women Taking Risky Paths to Perfection

Rabu, 07 September 2011

Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 11/16/2010 8:56 AM

Besieged by advertisements on the ideal image for women — slim, white-skinned with long straight hair — more women are trying to fit the picture by taking risks such as consuming slimming pills.

However, many consumers of the pills — widely available at drug stores and online shops — are not aware of the risks and some even face tragic ends.

Several death cases related to slimming-pill overdoses are being whispered among women and some have made their way to the press.

The latest death case recorded in the press took place in May 2009. At first, the police believed the victim, Nia Oktaviani, a private employee, committed suicide. But after a thorough investigation, the police found that she died of complications after consuming slimming pills.

There has been no exact and official statistics but a consumer protection advocate says the number might be higher than the number reported due to social stigmas.

Ida Marlinda, a researcher at the Indonesian Consumers Protection Foundation, said that her organization had not yet received statistics on those affected by slimming medicine. “Perhaps the victims [or their families] are too embarrassed, so they keep quiet,” she said.

Ida carried out research on slimming programs several years ago. The research showed that some slimming pills acted as a diuretic on consumers resulting in weight loss, but sometimes only 1 kilogram. She said losing water might be the cause of the weight loss but it did not mean the pills were working.

She suggested that consumers change their eating habits and lifestyle to achieve their desired weight. “Consumers should consult their nutritionists to lose weight correctly. They should know that there is no such thing as a quick fix,” she said.

The Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) has banned several brands of slimming pills in the past. In 2009, the agency banned dozens of traditional herbal medicines, including six brands of slimming medicines that contained dangerous substances including sibutramine hydrochloride. Last October, the agency also banned six more slimming pills that contained the substance.

Sibutramine is an oral appetite suppressant, which has been marketed for obesity. It has been associated with increased cardiovascular incidents and strokes. Several countries including those in the EU, the US, Canada and Hong Kong have banned the ingredient from the market.

BPOM head Kustantinah said that Indonesia had followed in their step; the BPOM pulled drugs containing sibutramine from the market.

Sibutramine hydrochloride is also known to increase risk of hypertension, or commonly known as high blood pressure, sleep difficulties, spasms and blurry vision.

The agency has received tipoffs from hospitals that fatalities have resulted from patients consuming the medicines. The side effects were, among others, vomiting blood.

While reports have been circulating, the agency has no specific regulation on slimming pills.

“We monitor the slimming pills just like any other medicines, we check the registration and the content,” she said.

Although the distribution had been hampered, online stores are still selling the unlicensed slimming pills.

A doctor based in Tangerang who requested anonymity said that he was aware of a case involving a 22-year-old woman who died after consuming slimming pills she bought through an online store.

While Indonesia already has a cyber law that came into power in 2008, it does not regulate complaint procedures for online stores while the consumer protection law does not specifically stipulate protection for online shoppers.

Cyberlaw expert Onno W. Purbo said that the law only regulated that online transactions could be used as evidence in court, but it did not focus on quality of products sold online.

Online consumers must educate themselves by keeping well read, Onno said. He suggested reading tips on online shopping or reviews on vendors from trusted friends. “It is much safer to gain recommendations from people you trust,” he said