Use of nonprescription weight loss products: results from a multistate survey

JAMA. 2001 Aug 22-29;286(8):930-5. doi: 10.1001/jama.286.8.930.


Context: Lifestyle changes to lose weight can be difficult; hence, both prescription and nonprescription diet products are appealing. Usage patterns of the nonprescription products phenylpropanolamine (PPA) and ephedra are of particular interest because of recent safety concerns.

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of overall and specific nonprescription weight loss product use by demographic characteristics, prescription diet pill use, diabetic status, and lifestyle choices.

Design and setting: The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a random-digit telephone survey conducted in 1998 in 5 states: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Participants: Population-based sample of 14 679 noninstitutionalized adults 18 years or older.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of nonprescription weight loss product use in 1996-1998.

Results: Seven percent reported overall nonprescription weight loss product use, 2% reported PPA use, and 1% reported ephedra product use. Overall use was especially common among young obese women (28.4%). Moreover, 7.9% of normal-weight women reported use. There was no difference in nonprescription weight loss product use by daily consumption of fruits and vegetables; however, more users than nonusers reported being physically active (for those who exercised >/=30 minutes 5 times per week, odds ratio, 1.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-2.0). Among prescription weight loss product users, 33.8% also took nonprescription product.

Conclusions: With increasing rates of obesity, nonprescription product use is likely to increase. Clinicians should know about their patients' use of both prescription and nonprescription weight loss products.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appetite Depressants*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ephedrine*
  • Female
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs*
  • Obesity
  • Phenylpropanolamine*
  • Prevalence
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Medication / trends*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weight Loss
  • West Virginia / epidemiology
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology


  • Appetite Depressants
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Phenylpropanolamine
  • Ephedrine