Within the pharmaceutical industry, obesity is now seen as the “trillion dollar disease”. That’s the estimated amount of profit a successful weight loss drug can expect to make. But are companies getting close to delivering a diet pill that really works – meaning, a pill that is both safe and effective at solving obesity? The answer, it seems, is No.
Pills To Reduce Obesity
It’s true that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a tiny number of weight loss pills like Xenical and Meridia for long term use in the treatment of obesity (BMI > 30). But evidence accumulated in clinical trials suggests that the effectiveness of these obesity drugs is less than impressive. Total annual weight reduction tends to be in the range 8-20 pounds. Furthermore, the highest weight loss tends to be achieved by patients who participate in supervised trials involving a combination of drug treatment, diet, exercise and counseling. Which makes it difficult to ascertain the precise effect of the medication itself. By comparison, less well supervised obesity drug trials tend to have a higher drop-out rate and reduced weight loss. And the longer the trial, the lower the compliance and the lower the weight loss. In short, while helpful to some patients, weight loss drugs are not yet the answer to obesity, especially when factors like cost are taken into account.
Should we be surprised? Not really. After all, even bariatric surgery is no guarantee of long term weight loss unless patients comply with the necessary post-operative dietary regimen. Indeed, some obesity experts claim that medical interventions like drugs and surgery are almost by definition doomed to failure, for the simple reason that they take control and responsibility away from patients. According to this view, it is only when patients accept full responsibility for their eating habits and lifestyle, that they have a real chance of achieving a normal weight in the long term.
Unfortunately, this view satisfies no one! It doesn’t satisfy the pharmaceutical companies, who need to make money. It doesn’t satisfy doctors, who need to give hope to their overweight patients, and it doesn’t satisfy consumers who want instant weight loss without having to change their eating habits. In short, there is an overwhelming demand for an obesity pill, but a viable product has yet to emerge.
Pills For Cosmetic Weight Loss
Demand for diet pills is not limited to those suffering from clinical obesity. Millions of consumers with less than 40 pounds to lose take non-prescription pills to burn off body fat or increase their rate of weight loss. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, almost 25 percent of girl students turn to anorectic diet pills when they’re trying to lose weight, including laxatives and diuretics.
These non-prescription pills are more difficult to evaluate, as they are not subject to the same high level of regulation as prescription-only drugs. Thus not all ingredients need to be tested, dosages and other labeling requirements are less stringent, and reporting of “adverse events” or health problems is not mandatory. Furthermore, few long term clinical trials are conducted on non-prescription pills, so hard evidence as to their safety and efficacy is scarce. Meantime, the huge profits to be made from these weight loss products means they can be supported by expensive advertising campaigns to increase consumer acceptance, making regulation and control even more of an uphill struggle. Indeed, the FDA has found it almost impossible to ban over-the-counter diet pills, even after reports of illness and injury.