The NHS has approved the use of Rimonabant, an obesity drug, in the England and Wales, even though there are serious concerns regarding its side effects. The diet pill can help with weight loss in obese patients, with results showing that up to 10% of body weight can be lost after undergoing treatment on the drug. However, there are known side effects, which include depression and even suicidal tendencies.
Both Scotland and the USA have not approved the drug due to the health concerns surrounding it. But supporters of the drug claim that it has proved beneficial to patients who have failed to lose weight using other methods, and other drugs.
Dr David Haslam, speaking on behalf of the National Obesity Forum, says that the diet pill “is a very good drug, and there are very many people who have tried everything else, including other drugs, with little success, who might benefit from it.”
However, GP’s have been instructed not to give the drug, branded Acomplia in the UK, to patients that have had history of mental illness, including depression. Research into the drug has revealed that up to 10% of all patients taking the drug are affected by the various side effects, that include mood swings, aggression, depression, nervousness and anxiety, and sleep disorders.
On a positive side, the drug can help patients to lose weight, which helps to reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, which in turn reduce the risk of developing the major killers today – heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The voice of reason though may be from Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty for Public Health. He has pointed out that although the drugs may help people to lose weight, they are certainly not a long term solution to being overweight or obese.
The long term mental side effects may be worse than the physical problems of severely being overweight. Prof. Maryon-Davis simply says “Ultimately the answer has to be: eat a little less and move a little more.” We cannot really argue with that sound advice.
Considering that some diets can give obese patients excellent results in a short time, such as the Atkins Nutritional Approach, which involves reducing carb intake to induce lipolysis (fat burning metabolism), without the long term mental side effects, this drug does still seem to be a little to extreme to be offered to patients.
Of the patients who have failed to lose weight by any other means – how hard have they tried using diet and exercise? Did they receive good nutrition and fitness coaching from the NHS?
Maybe the approval of this drug is really an economic issue, in that the NHS knows that it can treat obesity with pills for far less than providing free nutrition and fitness advice to patients (i.e. exercise referral schemes) . And that it is also cheaper in the long term to treat mental conditions with care in the community, than to treat physical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.
Ultimately, the obesity epidemic needs to be treated with increase awareness of what causes obesity, and not more drugs and medical treatments, which really only provide short term solutions.