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New Diet Drug Available to General Public in Summer


A diet drug that now is only available by prescription will soon be available over the counter. In the United States and other countries it is expected to be on drug store shelves by summer. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

There are plenty of prescription weight loss drugs available, but a new diet pill called Alli is the first that will be sold in a non-prescription version. It is proven to block fat. The generic name is orlistat. It is a less potent version of the prescription drug Xenical.

People, like Pastor Chad Huebner, hope it will help in the battle with obesity. "I don't want to have to go to the doctor to talk about my weight. We often feel that weight is something we should be able to manage ourselves."

But this non-prescription version of Xenical is hardly a magic pill. Users must also eat a low calorie, low fat diet and exercise.

Here is how it works: Alli blocks the intestines from absorbing some of the fat in food. People who take the medication but continue to eat fatty foods, suffer from painfully bloated stomachs and diarrhea. So using Alli encourages dieters to eat right.

Obesity specialist Dr. Arthur Frank says Alli could be helpful. "I think this is something that people who are committed to the idea of losing weight carefully can use and can use effectively." Dr. Frank is the director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program.

But critics, such as Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the advocacy group Public Citizen, says the drug can cause pre-cancerous lesions of the colon. "We strongly don't recommend this drug."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says some people should take Alli only under a doctor's supervision. And it is not for children. But the agency says the diet drug presents a lesser risk than that of heart disease or diabetes associated with obesity.