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Global Study Reveals Alarming Rates of Teens Using Risky Weight-Loss Products

A comprehensive global analysis has unveiled that approximately 9% of teenagers worldwide, with a significant focus on girls, have resorted to non-prescribed drugs, dietary supplements, and other weight-loss products, posing serious threats to their physical and mental well-being.

The study, which examined numerous research findings spanning four decades, estimates that half of these adolescents have used over-the-counter weight-loss products in the past month. Disturbingly, diet pills emerged as the most commonly used products, accounting for 6% of adolescent usage, followed by 4% using laxatives and 2% using diuretics.

These practices are not only medically unsupported for maintaining healthy weight but also linked to severe consequences for children’s health. Previous research has associated the use of such non-prescribed products with eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse among teens. Moreover, they have been correlated with poor nutritional intake during adolescence and unhealthy weight gain in adulthood.

Dr. Paula Cody, the medical director of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, expressed heightened concerns regarding the increasing use of diet pills and supplements, especially among teens. She warned about their dangers over six years ago, and with the surge in eating disorders post-pandemic, her concerns have only intensified.

The study’s findings also highlighted a significant increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders among children in the United States during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The prevalence of such weight-loss product usage was noted across multiple countries, with North America having the highest occurrence.

Dr. Cody emphasized the drastic impact of these products on patients, with changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns being observed. In some cases, patients can stop using the pills after understanding the health risks, but for others struggling with eating disorders, the allure of achieving a lower number on the scale may outweigh their health concerns.

Childhood obesity remains a global concern, affecting approximately 39 million children in 2022 according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., childhood obesity is labeled a “serious problem” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affecting nearly one in five children aged 2 to 17.

While formal weight-loss programs within the healthcare system aim to mitigate risks, adolescents often turn to unregulated products, leading to more problematic mental and eating behaviors. Dr. Sarah Raatz, a pediatrician with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, stressed the importance of structured programs and guidance to safeguard against these risks.

The researchers of the study have called for urgent interventions to prevent and regulate the use of weight-loss products among teens, expressing deep concern about how easily accessible these products are to the adolescent population.