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Over 17 Million Use Nonprescription Weight Loss Products

Long-term weight loss depends on overall lifestyle changes involving reduced caloric intake and increased physical activity levels. Yet many individuals in the U.S. turn to nonprescription weight loss pills or prescription diet pills because they are easily obtained and require little effort to achieve weight loss.

Most of these nonprescription products contain ephedra or ephedra alkaloid synthetic substances. These substances reduce appetite and stimulate caloric burning in the body. However, some research studies have reported potential adverse side effects of these products, such as cerebrovascular and cardiac events. This is of particular concern to those who have diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease.

Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) were utilized in this study. Researchers questioned 14,679 adults from five states (Florida, Iowa, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) about weight-loss product use, physical characteristics, presence of diabetes (because of increased risk for side effects), and lifestyle choices.

Seven percent of participants had used at least one nonprescription weight-loss product in the two-year study. Two percent of respondents had used phenylpropanolamine (PPA), the active ingredient in Dexatrim and Acutrim, and 1% had used the stimulant ephedra. Among young obese women (determined by body mass index, or BMI), 28.4% had used a weight-loss product; 7.9% of normal-weight women reported using one of the drugs. Among those diagnosed with diabetes, 5.9% had taken the products. Overall, more users than nonusers were physically active.

When extrapolating the results of the study to the general population, the authors estimate that 17.2 million people in the U.S. used these products from 1996-1998, with 5 million using PPA and 2.5 million using ephedra.

Obesity rates are increasing, which may lead to an increase in use of nonprescription weight-loss products. Health care professionals need to actively educate themselves and their patients as to the risks involved with use of these drugs. The authors add that the high usage of nonprescription weight-loss products among diabetics is "of particular concern."

Blanck HM, Khan LK, Serdula MK. Use of nonprescription weight loss products: Results from a multistate survey. Journal of the American Medical Association 2001:286(8), pp. 930-935.


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Date Last Modified - Monday, 27-Jul-2009 09:13:37 PDT