Obesity has become a worldwide health problem, but nowhere more so than in the United States. The statistics are appalling: two out of every three American men is overweight or obese, with similar or even higher rates in women. Because of increased health risks, the same statistics show that a fat person causes an average of $1,429 more in medical expenses annually. It’s such an overwhelming problem that by 2030 it’s estimated that the cost of added medical expenses in the United States will increase by $1.24 billion per year.
With obesity being such a widespread issue in the U.S., it’s no wonder that the weight loss industry has become so profitable. Its impact stretches beyond the weight management lifestyle and targets obesity explicitly. However, weight loss pills have a long history of questionable results, with some of them even causing health problems. Let’s have a look at weight management as a whole, as well as possible solutions for obesity that can improve health-related conditions rather than worsen them.
Symptoms and Health Impact of Obesity
Obesity in the United States is inflicting severe health issues on the population. It comes with increased odds of getting hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, as well as a myriad of other cardiovascular diseases. Individuals who manage to lose 5-10% of their baseline body weight already see the benefits in the decreased levels of triglyceride and blood pressure. Less weight also means a decrease in the risk of getting diabetes.
However, obesity is not that easy to define, and its diagnosis depends on who you’re asking. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, symptoms of obesity are as follows:
- Requiring a larger size for clothes because they’re feeling tight;
- Possessing a higher than normal waist circumference and body mass index;
- Developing extra fat around the waist.
The matter may be as simple as calculating your body mass index. Obesity is usually defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher. If you wish to calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in meters (m) squared. A healthy BMI range for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9.
What Causes Obesity?
Obesity can be a symptom of hormonal imbalances or be contributed to by genetic components. Generally speaking, obesity is a condition caused by an individual taking in more calories than they end up burning through exercise or normal daily activities. It causes the body to store excess calories as fat, and its continued accumulation eventually leads to a BMI higher than 30, which is obesity.
Some of the factors involved in causing obesity are:
- Medical problems — there are both common and uncommon medical diseases and conditions that can promote weight gain, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, etc.
- Lack of activity — one of the primary factors causing obesity is the sedentary lifestyle which promotes overeating and minimal little calorie burning;
- Unhealthy eating habits — what we choose to eat and how much has an influence on weight gain: oversized portions, high-calorie beverages and meals (including fast food,) skipping breakfast only to raid the fridge at night all count as unhealthy eating habits that can cause significant weight gain;
- Some medications — there are medications with side-effects affecting weight gains, like some antidepressants, diabetes medications, steroids, beta blockers, anti-seizure medications, and antipsychotic medications;
- Lack of sleep — sleep is one of the factors that affect hormonal balance, so a lack of sleep can cause changes in hormones that produce high-calorie food cravings and increase appetite;
- Pregnancy — the hormonal balance change during pregnancy can cause overeating, and it can also be challenging to lose the baby weight after giving birth.
Can Weight Loss Drugs Be Dangerous?
Weight loss drugs have a long history, considering that they entered the market in the late 1800’s. Then and now, quick fixes for weight management issues were sought after, but the drugs that were used back then weren’t necessarily safe. Weight loss pills had many side-effects that ranged from mild to severe.
- Thyroid extract-based pills — these were the first ones to hit the market, and despite being useful when it comes to weight loss, they caused adverse side-effects such as increased heart rate, chest pains, abnormal heartbeats, weakness, high blood pressure and fatalities;
- Dinitrophenol — a poison sold as weight loss pills in the 1930’s, it had thermogenic fat loss properties, but these were one of the symptoms of phenol poisoning, which also
- included severe rashes, peripheral neuritis, and cataracts, causing it to be removed from the market;
- Aminorex fumarate — in 1965, this obesity treatment was discovered to trigger pulmonary hypertension;
- Different forms of thyroid hormone — used in combination with laxatives, diuretics, and amphetamines during the 1960’s, these pills were especially toxic and harmful to the body;
- Ephedrine — after it was used in 1970’s to treat asthma in combination with caffeine successfully, ephedrine was turned into a weight loss pill, but it had to be banned in the 90’s and eventually be prohibited by the FDA in 2003 because it was implicated in several deaths caused by cardiovascular and neurological problems;
- Phenylpropanolamine — similar to ephedrine as it is a derivative of ephedra, it gained popularity after being marketed as an appetite suppressant, but it also had to be prohibited as it caused increased hypertension and hemorrhagic stroke;
- Fen-Phen — a combination of fenfluramine (FDA approved as a weight loss drug in 1973) and phentermine, it sold over 18 million bottles in 1996 before it was removed from the market a year later because it caused pulmonary hypertension, valve abnormalities, and heart lesions.
Use of drugs is a serious issue even when they don’t cause addiction. When looking at weight loss drugs, it’s imperative to make sure they’re safe, and FDA approved. Unfortunately, as they are sold as dietary supplements and not medication, their manufacturers do not have to prove they work. It is why the end users are the ones who have to be careful and informed about any possible health side-effects.
Author: Kirill Vesselov
Kirill Vesslov is our resident writer about health and wellness as well as our pharmacy services.