Postprint version. Published in Obesity Research, Volume 10, Issue 6, June 1, 2002, pages 560-574. Publisher website: http://www.nature.com. The definitive version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/oby.2002.77
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Suzanne Phelan was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Weight-loss medications are currently recommended for use only as an adjunct to diet, exercise, and behavior modification. Little, however, is known about the benefits of combining behavioral and pharmacological therapies or about the mechanisms that would make these combined approaches more effective than either used alone. This article reviews the effects of adding pharmacotherapy (i.e., principally sibutramine and orlistat) to a modest program of lifestyle modification. Studies revealed that the addition of medication typically improved short- and long-term weight loss compared with lifestyle modification alone. The best results, however, were obtained when medications were combined with an intensive, group program of lifestyle modification. The two approaches may have additive effects; behavioral treatment seems to help obese individuals control the external (i.e., food-related) environment, whereas pharmacotherapy may control the internal environment by reducing hunger, cravings, or nutrient absorption. The article examines possible methods of sequencing behavioral and pharmacological therapies and offers suggestions for future research.