NEW YORK - Obese teenagers who took the weight loss drug orlistat while making lifestyle changes gained less weight over 54 weeks, on average, than a control group of teens who changed behaviors but took a dummy pill, a new study found.
Overall, teenagers taking orlistat experienced a reduction in body mass index, a critical measure of whether one's weight falls within a healthy range for one's height, while those in the placebo group saw their BMIs rise.
Weight increased by about a pound on orlistat and by almost seven pounds for the placebo group.
A report on the study of 539 patients ages 12-16, an arm of which was carried out at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., was published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study was the first randomized clinical trial to evaluate the use of orlistat, trade named Xenical, in adolescents, and it was published along with an accompanying editorial cautioning against using the drug as "stand-alone treatment" to combat rising rates of obesity among children and youth.
Even the researchers pointed out that the benefits of the drug were modest: Overall, decreases in body mass index occurred in both groups during the first 12 weeks of the study, but then stabilized with orlistat and started climbing back up past the baseline for patients taking placebo pills.
"This should not be considered a miracle drug," said author Dr. Jean Pierre Chanoine, of the British Columbia Children's Hospital in Vancouver. "I don't think there is a magic answer."
Orlistat works by decreasing intestinal fat absorption. While on the drug, patients must take supplements of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D and K, doctors said.
Side effects include loose stools, nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, but experts say the drug is unlikely to have deleterious long-term effects because it remains in the gut and is not absorbed systemically.
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.