Health

Weight Loss Pills, Past and Present

The need for obesity treatments is urgent — more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and more than 40 percent are obese, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity is a leading cause of preventable premature deaths as well as health problems like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Roughly half of U.S. adults try to lose weight, most often by exercising more, eating less, and adding more fruits and vegetables to their diets, according to the CDC. Many people can lose weight with those approaches, but studies show that the pounds often creep back on when people rely on lifestyle changes alone.

“This is a lifelong disease that requires lifelong intervention, and even when people make lifestyle changes, they still have to fight against weight gain,” says Timothy Garvey, MD, a professor in the department of nutrition sciences and director of the Diabetes Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Medications can stop the processes that cause this weight gain.”

The Troubled History of Early Weight Loss Drugs

The weight loss medications on the market today are generally approved for adults with obesity who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater who have at least one weight-related health problem such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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