FDA Approves First Weight-Loss Drug in More Than a Decade
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first new weight-loss drug in 13 years. On Wednesday, the agency green-lit Arena Pharmaceutical's lorcaserin, which will be available to adults who are obese or overweight with at least one medical complication, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Once cleared by the Drug Enforcement Administration, it will be marketed in the United States under the brand name Belviq. It should be used in combination with a healthy diet and exercise. The FDA warned that the drug's safety when used alongside other diet medications has not been established; nor has its effect on the long-term risk of heart attack or stroke. Belviq offers modest weight loss benefits: In one clinical trial, two-thirds of patients on the drug lost 5 percent of their body weight, while one-third lost at least 10 percent after one year. Participants' average weight loss was 17 to 18 pounds. Still, that's enough to help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. "The way these things tend to work is you have some people who do extremely well and other people don't lose any weight at all," Louis Aronne, director of the weight loss program at Weill-Cornell Medical College, told the Associated Press. "But if we had 10 medicines that were all different and worked like this, we would have a real field."
The Doctor Will Screen You for Obesity Now
The news is heavy. The figures are huge. One in every three Americans today is obese, and a study published in the Journal of Health Economics in January estimates that $190.2 billion a year is spent on obesity-related healthcare costs alone. Worse yet, experts predict the obesity rate will rise. Nearly half of the American population—42 percent, to be exact—will be obese by 2030.
That is the dire forecast of a study published in May in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. But, researchers say, should the obesity rate remain steady and not continue on its upward trajectory, it could save the country almost $550 billion in healthcare costs in the next two decades. Prevent another 32 million Americans from becoming obese and far fewer of them will get sick.
Obesity—defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more—increases the risk of such chronic conditions as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, but they are also among the most preventable.
This week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an influential panel of medical experts, is emphasizing the need for doctors to screen all adults for obesity, whether through calculating height and weight to determine BMI or measuring their waist circumference—women with a waist size greater than 35 inches and men with a waist size greater than 40 inches are at a higher risk for obesity-related diseases. And those who are diagnosed as obese are now advised to undergo intensive behavioral interventions like weight-loss counseling—at least 12 to 26 sessions in the first several months. Upon review of many weight-loss studies, the Task Force found evidence of positive weight-loss results when patients engaged in at least a dozen sessions in the first year. So what steps can a person take to lose the weight? Research is yielding fresh insight. [Read more: The Doctor Will Screen You for Obesity Now]
Empower Your Diet With Antioxidants
While a cup of kale a day won't necessarily keep the oncologist away, experts agree that a daily diet with at least five servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may help reduce your risk of cancer.
Antioxidants work by neutralizing the free radicals in our body, which are charged particles that cause DNA damage. Cancer is widely believed to be caused by genetic mutations driven by DNA damage. Clare McKindley, a dietitian at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, likens free radicals to fighting siblings. "The antioxidant would be the mom who comes in and says, 'Hey, quit poking your little sister.'"
McKindley says people should look for ways to make antioxidants part of their diets. She encourages people to make a serving of vegetables (generally 1 cup steamed or raw) the basis of their plate, and then build it from there. "Something I do if I go to an Italian restaurant is order a salad and lasagna and put a [small] square of lasagna on top of my salad. That way I also avoid salad dressing," she says. "Or at a Mexican restaurant, if bell peppers and carrots come with the meal, you can use those to dip into the salsa instead of chips. You're ultimately creating a safe behavior in a high-risk environment, and that builds confidence." [Read more: Empower Your Diet With Antioxidants]
Angela Haupt is a health reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.