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Diet Pills Aren't For Everyone

When exercising and eating healthier foods still doesn't help people lower their weight, it may be time to consider diet pills, CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports in her monthlong series, The Great American Weight Loss.

Over 97 million Americans are overweight. The weight loss industry has done good business with those numbers. Last year, Americans spent over $30 billion on weight-loss plans, diet pills, potions, and books.

Excuse of the Day: I'm waiting for the right diet drug.

But diet drugs are not for everyone. If you only have a few pounds to lose, stick to the tried and true - exercise and a healthy diet.

However, for those struggling with obesity who have not been able to shed pounds by modifying meals and working out, there are some diet drugs that may help. However, those who opt for diet drugs must still exercise and eat healthy foods.

In September 1997, the FDA pulled fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (Redux) from the market. The drugs, though helpful for weight loss, were found to cause heart valve damage when used in combination.

One promising drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration is Meridia. The drug works in the same way as Redux and fen-phen, by stimulating brain chemicals that make you feel full, so that you will eat less. However, there are possible side-effects with this drug. In some cases, Meridia may raise your blood pressure.

To illustrate who is eligible for diet pills, Dr. Pamela Peeke, an obesity specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, illustrates three examples of women who want to lose weight.

  • A woman who is 5'4", 125 pounds, and wants to go down one dress size.

    "In this case, pills would be inappropriate," Peeke says. "This woman has no health risk factor associated with her extra
    few pounds."

    Instead, Peeke suggests the woman eat healthy food and exercise to shed those few pounds.

  • A woman who is 5'4", 145 pounds, and overweight.

    Peeke says that she, too, should not use a diet pill because she is not clinically obese. She should also follow a healthy eating and exercising regimen.

  • A woman who is 5'4" and weighs 190 pounds.

    "This is a case where the person is clinically obese and they need to think about ways to lose weight," Peeke says.

    The woman should consult her doctor about whether a diet pill might help, Peeke says, and which ones on the market would be best for her.

    Someone who is obese is at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, -- all medical conditions that can lead to poor health.


The Great American Weight Loss Tip of the Day is: Don't wait for a diet miracle pill -- get active now.


Over-the-counter products such as Dexatrim, Acutrim, and other appetite suppressants are also available.

"Most people looking to those type of drugs, they have to understand that it's not going to replace eating right and exercise," Peeke says. "So I would say for most people, they should try to stay away from the things."

If people choose to use over-the-counter drugs, Peeke advises taking a short-term course to "get on track." Otherwise, users should understand that the drugs can have side effects.

Another product available in stores is Olestra, a calorie-free artificial chemical made of sugar and vegetable oil. Peeke says that Olestra, found in such food products as potato chips, is also a drug and can have side effects.

The FDA requires that products containing Olestra have a warning stating that it can cause abdominal cramping and loose bowel movements. Olestra also inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients.

Since all the quick diet solutions are drugs with possible side effects, Peeke suggests says that they are not an ideal long-term solution for most people. Getting exercise, and eating right is the best way to maintain a healthy weight over a lifetime.

Reported by Dr. Emily Senay