U.S. Doctors, Patients Still Wary of Weight-Loss Drugs

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Weight-loss drugs that work by suppressing appetite are still facing resistance from healthcare practitioners and consumers alike, even though the newest options on the market are safe, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s going to be a challenge because of bad safety experiences with previous weight-loss medications,” Kaare Schultz, deputy chief executive of Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, told Reuters March 17 for a story on the company’s new focus on obesity drugs.

The company’s Saxenda has been approved by regulators but has not yet made its way to pharmacies. The company says sales will begin by mid-year. But will doctors prescribe the drug?

“Healthcare practitioners are still a little wary of weight-loss medications because of this sort of checkered past,” Thomas Wadden, director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Wall Street Journal March 16.

Saxenda carries a warning that it led to thyroid tumors in studies on rodents, and therefore people with a history of thyroid cancer shouldn’t be prescribed it. Past weight-loss drugs have had even more serious consequences; Wyeth (which has since been purchased by Pfizer) took a component of the fen-phen drug combo off the market in 1997 because it was linked to heart-valve damage, and Abbott Laboratories took Meridia off the shelves as recently as 2010 after a study demonstrated that it increased the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Some doctors told the Journal that although they do believe weight-loss drugs have a place in combating the United States’ obesity problem — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than a third of American adults are obese — they intend to wait at least a year to prescribe new medications in case any side effects come to light.

Alternatives to Weight-Loss Drugs
As people are pushing back against weight-loss drugs, more conservative diet and fitness programs are gaining some traction (though that’s not to say that trendy diets are losing their appeal, either).

And for people who have exhausted all other weight-loss avenues, personal training is a common choice. Of course, that’s not the only reason to seek personal training — on March 17 the Washington Post featured a gym that provides personal training to seniors to compensate for the lost strength, flexibility, endurance and balance that come with aging — but personal training is known for providing people struggling with weight loss the accountability needed to follow through.

Many doctors have also cautioned that weight-loss drugs shouldn’t be used to replace such fitness regimens, but should instead be combined with regular exercise and diet plans.

Dr. Sangeeta Kashyap, an endocrinologist, told the Journal that the logistical aspects of prescribing diet drugs may be responsible in some cases for positive results. “The drug really helps because it keeps the patient vigilant,” she said. “They have to come see the doctor every 30 days to get a refill, so they get more contact with professionals.”

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