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Should Children Be Taking Diet Pills?
Everything You Must Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 9, 2021

Poor dietary habits and physical inactivity have contributed to growing obesity in adolescents, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular, and other diseases.

Simultaneously, teens (especially girls) nowadays feel pressured to look “thin” and are often tempted to use over-the-counter fat burners, mostly advertised as all-natural, herbal, and promising overnight results.

However, they’re neither effective nor safe for kids or teens.

That’s why our experts have researched and presented all the critical info on the topic you need to know.

Common Ingredients in Weight Loss Supplements for Children

bowls of oats, beans and barleys, and different types of herbs

Parents and kids should be aware of particular ingredients commonly used in diet pills promising to help you lose weight without mentioning any possible health risks [1].

Although 11% of US adolescents aged 14-19 have used supplements for losing weight, the truth is that NO fat-burning ingredients are proven to be safe and effective for children [2] [3].

Here’s what you can typically find in them:

Herbal Diuretics and Laxatives

Many over-the-counter weight-loss products for kids contain herbs that work as diuretics and laxatives, such as Uva ursi, Dandelion, Juniper berry, Goldenseal, Senna (leaf and pod), Rhubarb root, etc.

These substances don’t actually enhance fat loss. Instead, they increase urine and other waste excretion and flush out the retained fluids from a child’s body.

More importantly, diuretic and laxative use in children hasn’t been studied enough for safety. These ingredients can cause serious side effects, including bloating, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, liver damage, even death [4].

Soluble Fibers

Many children’s weight loss supplements are also based on soluble fibers like Glucomannan, Psyllium, Pectin, Methylcellulose, and similar.

These compounds expand in the body and are advertised to make you feel full for longer. However, their safety in children is unproven, and they can also cause abdominal cramping and intestinal obstruction.

Garcinia Cambogia

sliced yellow fruit

Experts have also said that some weight loss supplements for obese children are made using Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA), naturally found in Garcinia Cambogia fruit.

One study has found that HCA doesn’t significantly promote weight loss [5], and no clinical trials have investigated the safety of Garcinia Cambogia for kids.

Other similar compounds known to modify metabolism without significantly increasing weight loss include Conjugated Linoleic Acid, L-Carnitine, Chromium Picolinate, Pyruvate, Green Tea, Gymnema Sylvestre, etc.

Other Ingredients to Avoid

Some compounds commonly found in diet pills advertised to increase fat breakdown and absorption, decrease stress-related binge-eating, and enhance weight loss in adults and kids you’d better steer clear from include:

  • Yohimbe
  • Ephedrine from Ephedra (Ma Huang) or Country Mallow (Sida Cordifolia)
  • Bitter Orange (Citrus Aurantium)
  • Theobromine from Cola Nut, Guarana or Mate
  • Caffeine and other highly potent stimulants that may interact with some medications and cause a fast heart rate, increased blood pressure, restlessness, insomnia, etc. [6]

Health Risks of Using Dietary Supplements for Treating Childhood Obesity

young boy holding his stomach in pain, and a different sachet of pills

Most diet pills, including those widely available on the store shelves labeled as “all-natural,” aren’t safe for all adults, not to mention a child or a teenager whose smaller body’s still growing and developing.

Kids’ bodies are more sensitive to all medications. Supplements made for losing weight can compromise their healthy growth by preventing the body from taking in fats from food necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

They can also suppress appetite, leading to a substantial caloric restriction that disrupts regular nutrient intake essential for adequate growth, activity, and recovery.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warn users that the use of laxatives, appetite suppressants, and other herbal products promising overnight weight loss actually cause water loss, making the weight come back when you stop using those products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) experts also warn parents and kids that around 70% of diet pills they’ve tested contain potent stimulants and other controlled substances that are harmful, addictive, even illegal.

Such substances in any form (pills, powder, etc.) promising a quick fix and increased breakdown of fat are unsafe for teenagers and may pose serious health risks, leading to side effects such as:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Oily stools
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Lightheadedness
  • Jitteriness
  • Sweating
  • Inability to focus, resulting in difficulty to study
  • High blood pressure
  • Racing heart rate
  • Arrhythmias and other heart problems
  • Insomnia
  • Lung problems, etc.

Besides very few prescription weight-loss pills approved for children older than 12, no over-the-counter fat burners are approved for a child under 18 because their long-term effects aren’t studied enough.

How to Support a Healthy Weight Loss in Kids Without Diet Pills?

young girl hugging her teddybear in bed, and a family of woman cooking food

There’s no shortcut or magic pill to help you safely lose weight and maintain a healthy weight long-term.

“If a parent is concerned that their child may be overweight, it’s important to talk with their physician. Combining diet, exercise, and changes in lifestyle habits with medication can help seriously overweight adolescents manage their weight and reduce their risk of serious health problems.” -Marc S. Jacobson, MD at Schneider Children’s Hospital

There are many dangers and only one viable solution - a healthy lifestyle that boils down to:

  • Healthy food choices that’ll fulfill children’s unique nutritional needs, divided into regular, balanced, nourishing meals throughout the day (e.g., whole grains, veggies, fruits, no low-fat diets)
  • Daily physical activity
  • More sleep and less screen time

You could also use a multivitamin supplements designed for kids.

Should a Child Take Weight Loss Pills?

No child should take pills to lose weight without consulting a child’s doctor as they’re not considered safe and effective for minors.

There’s no alternative to healthy eating and an active lifestyle when it comes to viable weight management and loss.

So, parents and the whole family should support an obese or overweight child to exercise regularly, adjust their diet under professional supervision, and perhaps join a fat camp or start another weight loss program for kids and adolescents.

It will take quite some time and patience, true, but your kid will be playing on the safe side, avoiding all the possible risks of the weight loss pills - and you can’t put a price on that.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16215034/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25248073/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20166770/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31751147/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9820262/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15554492/

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