Weekly check up: Using diet pills

With late-night pizza and Hell Well packed at all hours of the day, it can be hard for college students to lose weight at school. Though diet pills may seem like an easy method to melt the pounds away, something so miraculous is usually too good to be true.

“It’s a quick-fix thing. People feel like it will make them lose weight quickly. But there are a lot of pills being advertised as if they’re different then they really are,” said Student Health Services Outreach Coordinator Susan Haney.

One quick stroll down the aisle at GNC can leave your head spinning at the amount of diet pills on the market, but despite all the brands out there, Haney said most over-the-counter diet pills are simply stimulants that are meant to increase your heart rate, metabolism and body temperature to burn calories quicker. But don’t be fooled, Haney said. Just because these pills can be sold without a prescription does not mean their ingredients are necessarily safe.

Haney said the biggest risks associated with diet pills are cardiac, like irregular pulse rates. In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration booted Fen-Phen, a popularly prescribed anti-obesity drug, from the market after the infamous diet pill was linked to heart valve disease.

Although diet pills may not prove to be a huge health risk when taken as directed, Haney said most people who pop them are also dieting at the time or ingesting a lot of caffeine – habits which can exaggerate dangerous side effects. Haney said the side effects of diet pills are often amplified in women, the largest group of diet-pill consumers, because they have smaller body masses than men.

According to a study released in October by the University of Minnesota’s “Project EAT,” the number of high school-aged females taking diet pills nearly doubled from 7.5 to 14.2 percent. And 20 percent of women ages 19 and 20 admitted to using weight-loss drugs.

Haney said one of the biggest problems with diet pills is that it is hard for someone to know how the drug will react with other medications a person is also taking at the time.

“We don’t know how they’ll affect you if you’re on other medications. People can react differently,” she said. “Anything that increases your heart rate can be a problem.”

Despite the risks, people are still taking diet pills in droves. In fact, weight loss drugs are so popular, the FDA just approved one for dogs this month.

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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