After 13 years with only one Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pill for weight loss available in the U.S., the agency added two more anti-obesity drugs to the arsenal in the past 30 days. Qsymia is the latest.
I covered the approval of Belviq last month. Before that, Xenical was the only option. It received FDA approval in 1999, then became available in a lower dose as the over-the-counter drug Alli in 2007.
What does this recent flurry of activity in the drug war against obesity mean?
To the 68 percent of American adults who are either overweight or obese (that's more than 23 million people) it means hope. Hope that one of these drugs will help them win the battle they fight every day with overeating. They still have to learn to make better food choices and be more physically active - no pill can replace that - but maybe, just maybe, one of these prescriptions will make it easier.
Obesity is a complex disease with multiple causes. No single treatment will work for everyone. Since each of these medications functions in a different way, one could be better for you than another.
If you tried weight loss pills in the past and didn't get the results you expected, you may want to try again. If you've been afraid to try them before, keep an open mind. They may help.
FAQ About Anti-Obesity Drugs
How do they work? Some have a single mode of action, others have a combination of effects. They may:
- Suppress appetite
- Increase metabolism
- Block absorption
- Increase satiety
- Stimulate alertness
How much weight can I lose? FDA approval is based on studies that show weight loss is greater using the drug than can be achieved from just diet and exercise alone. Weight loss varies for each drug and with one's ability to comply with the diet and exercise recommendations, but range from 5-10 percent.
How long must I take them? Each of the available drugs must be taken daily to maintain results. They are not a cure, but a treatment that must be continued for the rest of one's life.
Do they have side effects? As with most drugs there are risks associated with their use, but when taken as recommended the benefits are expected to outweigh any risks for most people.
Can anyone take them? Most are approved for adults only. Some cannot be used if pregnant, when taking certain medications or if suffering from other conditions. These concerns must be discussed with your physician.
For too long, being overweight was viewed as a self-control problem. Newer treatment options reflect our current understanding that obesity is a disease.
My post on last month's anti-obesity drug: New Weight Loss Drug Wins FDA Approval
Some thoughts on what obesity is not: Reflections on Obesity and the Weight of the Nation
Why obesity isn't our biggest problem: Metabolic Syndrome is Worse than Obesity