The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved two new medications for weight loss.
Qsymia, is actually a combination of two older drugs – topiramate (Topamax), an anticonvulsant that helps increase satisfaction after eating, and phentermine, a psychostimulant and appetite suppressant. Using Qsymia combined with diet and exercise for a year led to an average weight loss of 8.4% of total body weight, or about 20 pounds.
Qsymia is a controlled medication because it has a potential for addiction. Like other psychostimulants (think Adderall and Ritalin), it can cause a fast heart rate and a tingling sensation in the limbs. Other side effects include memory impairment and decreased concentration. Topiramate can cause birth defects as well.
Belviq, is an entirely new class of medication called a serotonin 2C agonist. It helps patients feel full sooner and eat less. Belviq was even less effective than Qsymia in helping with weight loss; it led to an average annual decrease of just 5% of total body weight, or about 7 pounds. The side effects from Belviq are minimal, but because older serotonin agents were associated with heart problems, everyone is keeping a close eye on it.
Information about cost is hard to pin down exactly, but the best guesstimates are that Qysimia will cost about $6 a day and Belviq $8 a day.
This made me wonder if we should approach these medicines as if they were in a refrigerator case at the grocery store and ask ourselves, “What am I paying per pound?”
When you look at it this way, these two new wonder drugs don’t look so great. Qsymia will run you about $109/pound of weight lost while Belviq will cost you about $417/pound.
To give you an idea of how that compares to other methods that have been around for a while:
- Weight Watchers = $ 97/pound
- Nutrisystem = $130/pound
- Jenny Craig = $131-237.56/pound
- Weight loss surgery = $235 – 400/pound
- Diet and exercise = $0/pound!
As you can see, none of them are cheap, and the only one that doesn’t cost you any money costs you a little more in time and effort. Unfortunately, it’s the only one that really works. In fact, it’s the main ingredient in those super expensive drugs we’re talking about. Read that description again – “using Qsymia combined with diet and exercise led to weight loss…” The problem with diet pills is that not only do you gain the weight back as soon as you stop taking them, but without diet and exercise, they barely make a dent in your waistline.
Because of all of this – the cost, the side effects, the potential for addiction and the lack of any proven long-term benefit – we don’t even prescribe these medicines at the Student Health Center. We’d rather work with you one on one and help you take advantage of the resources available to you here at Ohio State.
At Student Health Services, we can offer a “well person” exam with any indicated laboratory tests and refer you to one of our registered dieticians. Dining services offers some great online resources to help you keep tabs on your nutritional intake and Rec Sports has many facilities and programs to help you participate in any kind of exercise that you are interested in.
We want you to succeed at getting to and maintaining your optimal healthy weight. As soon as it is as easy as taking a pill, we’ll let you know. In the mean time, we’re here to help you do it the right way.
Jo Hanna Friend D’Epiro, PA-C, MPH
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University