For those who've struggled to be thinner it might look like
an answered prayer: a weight-loss pill that's safe - and
doesn't require a prescription or a trip to the doctor. If your
child has been frustrated with weight issues, you may think that an
easy answer is finally here.
But a new over-the-counter (OTC) diet pill sold under the brand
name "Alli" (pronounced like the noun "ally")
is not designed for kids or teens. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has approved the drug for adults. Kids and
teens shouldn't use Alli, the agency said, because it has
not been tested in those younger than 18. Youngsters who have
weight problems should be treated by a doctor.
The active ingredient in Alli, orlistat, is found in a higher
dose in the prescription-only drug Xenical. Both drugs work by
keeping the body from absorbing some of the fat found in food. But
kids and teens need some fat in their diet - about 30% of their
calories - because it helps their bodies absorb many of the
vitamins and nutrients they need, including vitamins D, E, K, and
beta carotene. So a kid who takes Alli may not get the
vitamins and nutrients necessary to grow healthy and develop well,
and could be at risk for health problems down the line.
Alli also can have some unpleasant side effects (which
manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline calls "treatment
effects") that could be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and even
traumatic - someone taking Alli who eats more than 15 grams of fat
in a meal could have loose or more frequent stools, an urgent need
to go to the bathroom, or gas with an oily discharge. Indeed, Glaxo
recommends that users wear dark pants and keep a change of clothes
The company also warns that some people who have certain medical
conditions should definitely not take Alli, including organ
transplant patients and those with gall bladder problems, thyroid
disease, kidney stones, and pancreatitis.
While it would be great to lose excess weight just by taking a
pill, the reality is that safe weight loss isn't that
simple. It takes eating healthy foods, controlling portion sizes,
limiting the junk, and being active every day. It's a long-term
effort that takes patience and commitment from parents and
As your kids grow, you can help them form healthy eating and
exercise habits that can last for life. Stock the house with
healthy foods, lead an active lifestyle, and encourage kids to do
the same to help them reach a healthy weight.
What This Means to You
Alli is not for kids and teens. It is only approved for adults,
and hasn't been tested in or recommended for kids. That said,
kids still can go into a store and buy the drug without having to
show proof that they're at least 18 years old.
It's important to make sure your kids stay away from
Alli. Not only does it have the potential to interfere with healthy
growth and development, but it also sends the message that
there's a quick fix for weight control. And in kids who may be
at risk for eating disorders such as bulimia, this over-the-counter
drug could be seen as one more dangerous shortcut.
Parents who have concerns about their kids' weight should
talk with a doctor, who can determine whether a child is at a
healthy weight and, if necessary, create a weight-management plan.
It's important for kids to follow a program tailored to their
specific needs by a doctor.
Even if you've had success from dieting, it's not a good
idea to put your child on a diet unless it's under the
supervision of a doctor. Kids have different nutritional
requirements - even when they're trying to lose weight - and
need certain vitamins and nutrients to grow and develop well.
But you can encourage kids to reach and maintain a healthy
weight by integrating healthy eating and exercise into your
Lead by example.
The foods you eat and your attitude about food and exercise send
powerful messages to kids. So if you eat fast food or complain
about exercise and physical activities, kids will follow your
lead. If you show them that it feels good to eat healthy foods
and that physical activities can be fun, they'll follow that
Help kids find an activity that fits.
A workout doesn't have to feel like work for kids. Get them
involved in an activity they enjoy - try soccer, bike riding, or
running. Find something that helps build your child's
self-esteem and is an opportunity to socialize with other
Help kids understand what's healthy.
Teach your kids what "healthy food" is (low in fat;
high in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients) and how to read a food
label so that they know how to make good food choices - even when
you're not around.
Draw the lines.
You control the food supply, determining what to buy for your
household. So stock up on healthy fruits, vegetables, whole
grains, and lean proteins - and keep junk food out.
Limit screen time.
Limit the total time kids spend watching TV, playing video
games, or working on the computer to 2 hours each day.
Teach kids the difference between health and
Spend time with kids flipping through favorite magazines and
watching TV shows and movies. Talk about the images of the people
you see - and all that goes into creating their appearances. Help
them understand that fad diets sold on magazine covers are
unrealistic and can be dangerously unhealthy.
Encourage a healthy attitude about weight, appearance,
and body image.
Help kids develop a healthy perspective on their appearance and
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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