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A Magic Weight-Loss Pill After All?

The new over-the-counter FDA-approved weight-loss pill, alli, may just be the magic pill consumers have been seeking, but the magic may be in the message vs. the actual drug.

When I first read about alli back in February, when it was announced by the media that the first over-the-counter weight-loss drug had been approved by the FDA, I was both skeptical and annoyed. How could the government give consumers more false hope? Finally, in this age when the message is being spread loud and clear about the need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight to stave off disease, how could a "magic pill" be approved that proliferates the sick-care message over the preventive-care message?

But on Monday, May 21, alli's distributor, GlaxoSmithKline, held a brunch in New York City to share "the alli experience [that] will change the way you view weight loss." The media were invited, and I can tell you, I was more than intrigued to attend the event via its webcast. And, I'm glad I did. Because it gave me a whole different outlook about this drug, and how it could actually be a positive move for society and for our industry, in particular.

Released to the public June 15, alli is the street name for the drug orlistat (each alli tablet contains 60 mg of orlistat), and it works like this: "alli binds to gastric and pancreatic lipases, blocking absorption of about 25 percent of consumed fat. Undigested fat is excreted from the body instead of turning into stored fat. The absorption of carbohydrates and proteins is not affected. alli is not an appetite suppressant, nor does it impact the heart or nervous system. It is minimally absorbed, and there is no residual effect once the drug is stopped."

But to effectively help individuals lose weight, alli needs to be combined with a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet and regular exercise. And, GlaxoSmithKline is making quite an effort to spread this message. In fact, at the brunch, little was said during the presentation about the drug itself, with a majority of time spent on the importance of nutrition and exercise. During the question-and-answer session, one attendee even commented that she didn't understand why alli is so different; the public already knows that a healthy diet and exercise are key, but it's still not working.

Yet, this is different. A drug that reduces the amount of fat the body absorbs, and then ferries it out of the body, sends a different message altogether to individuals resistant to changing their lifestyle. They will see this as the "easier" way to weight loss; it's the "magic pill" - albeit they do have to change their diet and they do have to exercise.

alli comes in a Starter Pack, which includes the weight-loss capsules (three per day), the Shuttle carrying case and, most important, reference booklets that outline the keys to successful weight loss, including a Welcome Guide, Companion Guide, Healthy Eating Guide, Calorie & Fat Counter, Daily Journal and Quick Facts cards for the support individuals need to succeed with alli. This is exciting news for your members who have made the commitment to a healthier lifestyle, but still struggle with those extra pounds. And, it's good news for fitness facility operators who will likely see overweight individuals who have not exercised in the past come to them for the exercise component of alli.

There is also an online component. Individuals can go to the myalli.com site to access an individually tailored online action plan developed by clinical experts, free access to tools and resources, and a community of myalli plan participants via message boards.

GlaxoSmithKline even has a website to assist health professionals working with clients who are taking alli. Currently, the site only has information for physicians, pharmacists and nutritionists. Perhaps they underestimate the role that fitness professionals could have in helping those taking alli succeed in their efforts. But, I believe, this realization will come in only a matter of time.

This is not meant to be a sales pitch for alli. I truly believe that this "magic pill" could indeed be another key piece of this new horizon we are embarking on - an era in which the fitness landscape is changing, and fitness facility professionals are taking notice and making moves to embrace these changes to make both the public and our industry healthier and stronger.

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