Research summary

Global Prevalence of Unprescribed Weight-Loss Products Use in Adolescents

Jessica Ganga

About 6% of adolescents overall—that is almost 1 in 10 adolescents—have used a nonprescribed, ineffective weight-loss product in their lifetime, according to a recent meta-analysis.

According to the study’s authors, the “use of nonprescribed weight-loss products in adolescents is a public health concern that is associated with negative physical and psychological consequences.” The team of researchers sought to determine the prevalence of nonprescribed weight-loss products (diuretics, laxatives, and diet pills) among young individuals.

Four databases were used to find relevant data, which including MEDLINE, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL), and EMBASE. The researchers searched for quantitative studies that reported prevalence data on the use of nonprescription weight-loss products in individuals 18 years and younger.

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In total, 90 articles were used and included 604,552 participants in the meta-analysis. Of the 90 articles used for the study, 50 studies (56%) were from North America. Overall, the researchers found, the reported prevalence of weight-loss product use in adolescents was 5.5% (96% CI, 5.5% to 5.6%). When the researchers broke the data down to use of weight-loss products in the general population they found the prevalence was 2.0% (95% CI, 1.9% to 2.1%) in the past week, 4.4% (95% CI, 4.3% to 4.5%) in the past month, 6.2% (95% CI, 6.1% to 6.3%) in the past year, and 8.9% (95% CI, 8.6% to 9.2%) in their lifetime. Further, the use of weight-loss products was found to be higher among girls than boys.

This study had limitations. For example, the studies were mostly from the United States, which may make it difficult to generalize the results to other regions. Additionally, the authors noted that many of the studies that were included did not specifically state the products that were nonprescribed, which could lead to under or overreporting of the data.

Still, based on the study results, researchers reiterated the need for interventions regarding the use of nonprescription weight-loss products among adolescents.

“Diet pills [6.0%] were the weight-loss product used most frequently by adolescents, followed by laxatives [4.0%] and diuretics [2.0%],” the authors concluded. “Given the individual and public health issues associated with adolescent use of nonprescription weight-loss products, interventions are urgently required to prevent and regulate use of weight-loss products in this population.”


Hall NY, Pathirannahalage DMH, Mihalopoulos C, Austin SB, Le L. Global prevalence of adolescent use of nonprescription weight-loss products: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. Published online January 10, 2024. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.50940