BBC News reported yesterday that a new drug has been developed to tackle the obesity epidemic. The pill will be offered to patients with a BMI of over 28 (i.e. those who are very overweight / borderline obese). The drug which has been licensed to sell over the counter is Orlistat, which actually stops fat from being absorbed into the body. The over the counter version of the weight loss pill will not be as strong as the one prescribed by GP’s, but it should still help those that are trying to lose weight.
However, a word of caution – patients will still need to make a conscious decision to lose weight, which means that as well as taking the pill, they will have to make an effort to purchase healthier foods and exercise too, otherwise the benefits of Orlistat may be minimal.
“GlaxoSmithKline, who make the pill known commercially as alli, say their clinical trials show that adding Orlistat to a reduced calorie, lower fat diet, can help people lose 50% more weight than dieting alone. But if they persist in eating fat, they will experience some nasty side effects such as diarrhoea and gas problems.” Source: BBC News.
Some people may be concerned over the side effects and possible health complications that may arise with taking such a pill. However, Graham Phillips, a National Obesity Forum advisor, said he saw no problem with introducing the pill over-the-counter:
“There will be a training pack for pharmacists which will teach them how to measure BMI quickly. Waist measurement is 90% of what you need to know. Pharmacists have been dispensing emergency contraception over-the-counter for some time, so they have systems in place like consultation rooms to make sure these pills can be dispensed safely to the correct people.” Graham Phillips, 2009.
Other nutrition and dietician experts have also provided an opinion:
“It can work, the risks are minimal, but I don’t want to see the public being exploited. They have got to use it with knowledge. This plays a part in the a weight management regime – but lifestyle changes in terms of eating a better diet must come first and last.” Dr Ian Campbell, Weight Concern.
A word of caution from the Faculty of Public Health:
“My worry is that a lot of people will take these pills without proper advice and support about dieting and exercise. It’s all too easy to pop a pill instead of making the lifestyle changes we need to keep our weight under control. This will only work if pharmacists can spend a lot of time giving ongoing advice.” Prof. Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health.
As with any drug or pill that aims to tackle weight problems, the pill cannot work in isolation. The patient has to make a concerted effort to change their eating habits and lifestyle to aid the weight loss, otherwise at best the dieter will just yo-yo from obese to overweight, or worse, put on more weight due to a misguided belief that the pill is a miracle cure and that they can eat as much as they wish.