According to a recent study published in JAMA, a high level of non-prescribed drugs, dietary supplements, and other weight-loss products are now being used by adolescents worldwide.
Drawing on an examination of numerous studies spanning four decades, researchers estimate that approximately 9% of adolescents in the general population have experimented with over-the-counter weight-loss products during their lifetime, with roughly half of them having used such products in the past month.
Among these, diet pills emerge as the most prevalent, with around 6% of adolescents having used them in their lifetime, followed by approximately 4% using laxatives and 2% using diuretics.
These products, which are much more commonly used in teen girls, in particular, pose substantial risks to both the physical and mental well-being of children, and they are not medically recommended for maintaining a healthy weight.
Prior research has linked the use of non-prescribed weight-loss products to issues such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse in teenagers. Furthermore, they have been associated with poor nutritional intake during adolescence and unhealthy weight gain in adulthood.
A study from 2022 observed a tenfold increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders among children in the United States during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to previous years. While the new study examines the use of diet pills and weight-loss products in various countries, prevalence is notably highest in North America.
Despite the global rise in childhood obesity, reaching 39 million cases in 2022 according to the World Health Organization, the use of weight loss programs within formal healthcare systems is deemed essential for mitigating risks.
Turning to diet pills or other non-prescribed weight-loss products does not provide the protective measures inherent in formal healthcare interventions, as highlighted by experts.
While there are no established standards for the operation of pediatric weight management clinics, the study pointed out that it’s alarming how accessible these products are. The researchers also stress the urgent need for interventions to prevent and regulate the use of weight-loss products among adolescents.