June 13, 2006 — -- For millions of Americans fighting the battle of the bulge, it's the Holy Grail -- a pill you can buy over the counter will make you lose weight.
Their dreams may come true with a new product hitting store shelves this week.
Americans spend more than $1 billion on weight loss products each year, and for the estimated two-thirds of Americans who are obese or overweight, many will try anything.
"The market is so enormous, and there are so many overweight people desperate for solutions," said Kelly Brownwell of Yale University.
That solution could come this week, when consumers will be able to buy the first FDA-approved, over-the-counter diet pill called Alli. It's a lower-dose version of the prescription diet aid Xenocal.
Alli works by attaching itself to enzymes in the digestive tract and stops about 25 percent of the fat intake from each meal, which later passes through the body.
Doctors say it's not a magic bullet, though, noting that a good weight loss drug may produce a 10 percent weight loss. For example, a 200-pound person would lose 20 pounds to get down to 180 pounds.
"The typical pattern for people on weight loss drugs is to go into it with a lot of enthusiasm," Brownwell said. "Many people don't lose as much as they like. They get discouraged and go off the drug."
And the drug is expensive. The Alli system costs $60 a month.
GlaxoSmithKline is banking on its success by launching an unprecedented marketing campaign that saturates TV and women's magazines. The company has even created a companion book for people who take the drug.
But experts point out that the idea of treatment for weight loss in general costs the country way too much money and may miss the larger point.
Despite the hope this new pill may bring, doctors stress the best way to lose weight is through diet and exercise. They say relying on a drug alone to solve your weight problem is not enough, but it can help.
"This is a problem that screams out for prevention," Brownwell said. "The country ignored obesity for years. Now people are paying attention, but it's the wrong kind of attention."