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Today in Your Health, we'll look at grueling workouts for kids and ask if they're safe. We start with grownups looking to lose weight. There are two new medications coming to the market soon. NPR's Patti Neighmond asks who should take them and who should not.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Most people who lose weight are pretty familiar with the body's frustrating starvation response - increase appetite, slow down metabolism, gain the weight back fast. Dr. Judith Korner is an obesity specialist at New York's Columbia University Medical Center.
DR. JUDITH KORNER: I have one patient who came in and said that he's lost the weight of a Volkswagen during his lifetime. It's like 2,000 pounds, you know. So he's lost 100 pounds and gained it back and lost and re-gained.
NEIGHMOND: A vicious cycle experienced by most of Korner's patients, including 65-year-old Barbara Robinson, who's 5-foot-2, 250 pounds.
BARBARA ROBINSON: I've been on Weight Watchers. I've been on Jenny Craig. I've been kind of creating my own kind of diet, being on my own. So I've been this journey before. This isn't my first rodeo, as they call it.
NEIGHMOND: Because Robinson's obese, she's a good candidate for the new weight loss medications. Dr. Donna Ryan is a researcher with Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, where she's worked on a number of drug companies' studies of both medications.
DR. DONNA RYAN: The medications are working through biology. They're working to reduce appetite and to diminish hunger.
NEIGHMOND: The drugs don't work magic in the body. They simply help people eat less.
RYAN: Patients must intentionally go on a diet, try to reduce food intake and increase physical activity.
NEIGHMOND: The new medications don't boost metabolism. Only exercise does that. The brand names are Qsymia and Belviq. Qsymia's a time-released combination of two medications. Belviq is a lower dose single medication. Both have side effects, like dry mouth, constipation, a slight tingling in fingers and toes. But Qsymia can have serious side effects. It can increase heart rate and cause birth defects.
RYAN: So you absolutely do not want to become pregnant while you're taking Qsymia. It's important.
NEIGHMOND: Both drugs must be prescribed by a doctor. Women taking Qsymia are required to have a monthly pregnancy test.
Now, these drugs aren't for people who want to lose 15 pounds to fit into that bikini. They're for people who are obese or overweight, with a health problem like high blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar. And decreasing blood sugar, says Ryan, is the drug's biggest benefit.
RYAN: We know if we can get that modest weight loss, we can prevent the development of Type II diabetes. Type II diabetes is a chronic disease and it's reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. And we really need to get the jump on that.
NEIGHMOND: In studies, patients lost between 4 and 8 percent of their original body weight, and diabetes risk was reduced. But Cindy Pearson, with the National Women's Health Network, cautions those benefits may not be enough to justify potential risks.
CINDY PEARSON: Both of these drugs have met a very modest test of maybe around about 5 percent weight loss, and there's hope that over the long term, if you can maintain 5 percent weight loss, you would start to get some health benefit. But we actually don't know if that's true.
NEIGHMOND: Pearson says long-term studies are needed.
PEARSON: And we really think women and all consumers deserve better information before these drugs are marketed widely.
NEIGHMOND: Qsymia is expected to be available this month and Belviq around the beginning of next year.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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