Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. A Gallup poll found that 86% of full-time workers are overweight. A report in Health Affairs by Kenneth Thorpe, shows that 7% weight loss in just a small segment of the older adult population (60-64 year olds) could save Medicare as much as $15 billion. And the savings could be up to $35 billion if those individuals lost 10% of their body weight.
Despite this, last year the FDA rejected three new obesity therapies — Qnexa, Contrave, and Lorqess — the most promising of which, Qnexa, has been shown to bring about sustained weight loss greater than 10% of a person’s body weight. The FDA wanted additional evidence of the drugs were safe and effective in the short term; and evidence showing long-term weight loss. The rub is that the ingredients in two of the three therapies are known to be safe — they’re already FDA approved and widely available for treating migraines, depression, and other conditions. The first of the three drug makers is now going back to try again, having resubmitted its application for FDA approval.
Arguably, the main reason the FDA is hesitant to approve an obesity drug is because it considers nothing as safe for controlling weight as diet and exercise. However, diet and exercise generally fail. And there are few medications available — most of which are ineffective. That leaves surgery, a drastic step for many with a relatively high risk of death.
Without prescription weight-loss drugs, people turn to over-the-counter remedies, many of which are not very safe either. These include highly-caffeinated energy drinks that can raise blood pressure and herbal remedies bought on the Internet, many of which come from China and actually contain active ingredients that have been banned by the FDA.