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.