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Pills to fight obesity available OTC

GSK's Alli will be available to adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 28 or over, over the counter this week

GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Alli (Orlistat) will be available to adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 28 or over, over the counter this week. It is claimed that users will be able to shed 3lb a week, equivalent to more than three stones over a four-month period.

Alli works by absorbing approximately 25 per cent of the fat from food, thereby preventing it being turned into extra pounds by the body. The undigested fat passes straight through the body, creating "an urgent need to go to the bathroom".

However, according to a report in the Telegraph, Gareth Williams, professor of medicine at the University of Bristol and the author of Obesity: Science To Practice, has said Alli's side-effects are so severe that "possibly few users will even finish their first pack, let alone buy a second".

More seriously, he added: "The drug may cause only a small and transient downward blip in the otherwise inexorable climb in weight."

"Selling anti-obesity drugs over the counter will perpetuate the myth that obesity can be fixed simply by popping a pill and could further undermine efforts to promote healthy living, which is the only long-term escape from obesity," Prof Williams wrote in the British Medical Journal.

Profession Williams cautioned that real-life weight loss may not be as dramatic as in clinical trials, which showed that adding Alli to a reduced calorie, lower fat diet can help people lose 50 per cent more fat than dieting alone.

Alli costs £1.60 a day and is a diluted version of the prescription-only drug Xenical.

20th April 2009

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