NIH-Funded Weight-Loss Study

Researchers at Penn's Weight and Eating Disorders Program have received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a two-year study exploring the benefits of combining the weight-loss medication MERIDIA with diet and exercise counseling.

"We are very excited about this study," said Dr. Thomas A. Wadden, director of the program and recipient of the grant. "We believe that it will significantly improve the long-term maintenance of weight-loss, which remains the Achilles' heel of most weight-reduction efforts."

An additional goal of the study is to help primary care physicians provide more effective weight counseling during routine office visits, according to Dr. Robert Berkowitz, medical director of the study.

"Most doctors feel unprepared to help their obese patients modify eating and activity habits," Dr. Berkowitz said. "But we've learned in a previous study that brief physician counseling was as effective as more intensive group behavior modifications that may be provided by nutritionists. This is important news for doctors."

In a separate trial, Dr. Wadden and Dr. Berkowitz are studying the use of weight-loss medications by obese adolescents. Together, the two trials are the first such studies of appetite-suppressant medications to be funded by NIH since September 1997, when Redux and fenfluramine (a component of then-popular fen-phen) were withdrawn from the market.

"MERIDIA works by different means than Redux and fenfluramine, and two studies have shown that it is not associated with heart-valve abnormalities," Dr. Wadden said. The two-year MERIDIA trial follows a similar year-long study that Penn conducted last year, in which researchers observed no significant complications.

"The major concern is that it may significantly increase blood-pressure in a small minority of patients. We've been able to manage that complication by adjusting the medication dose," Dr. Berkowitz said.

Penn researchers are looking for volunteers between the ages of 25 and 65 to take part in the study. Participants must be at least 35 percent above recommended weight and generally in good health.

The program requires a $300 deposit, which will be returned upon completion of study milestones. The deposit will be waived in cases of hardship.

Interested persons should call Shirley or Rebecca at (215) 898-7316 or visit the study's website at: www.med.upenn.edu/weight.


Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 14, December 5, 2000

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