The world's first anti- obesity drug that works without suppressing the appetite has had startling results.

The world's first anti- obesity drug that works without suppressing the appetite has had startling results.

A study of more than 15,000 Germans who had taken the drug for seven months showed they lost an average of 24lb and three inches off their waistline.

Three months ago the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommended that Xenical, which works by blocking the digestion of fat, should be made available on the NHS for people with serious weight problems.

The latest research, presented yesterday at the 11th European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, has shown that the estimated cost to the NHS of £12m a year may be worth paying. The conference was told this week that obesity was now at epidemic proportions both in the Western world and developing nations. More than 300 million adults worldwide are now overweight or obese.

In Britain, one in five people is now clinically obese after a trebling of obesity levels in the past 20 years. Obesity, which causes 31,000 premature deaths a year, is estimated to cost the NHS at least £500m a year to treat conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. The German researchers showed that seven in eight patients lost at least 5 per cent of bodyweight; half lost at least 10 per cent; one in five lost more than 15 per cent, and some patients lost 25 per cent or more. There were also substantial improvements in blood sugar control, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. A third of patients with Type 2 diabetes and almost half of those with high cholesterol had medication for the conditions reduced after treatment.

The subjects of the study ­ 11,131 women and 4,418 men ­ had been overweight for an average of 14 years. Xenical was prescribed in conjunction with a reduced-fat diet in 73 per cent of patients and physical activity in 53 per cent.

Dr Alfred Wirth, from the Teutoburger Wald Clinic, Bad Rothenfelde, who led the study, said: "This test was an extensive study of real patients with real health problems."

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