The researchers said thousands of children and adolescents are using anti-obesity drugs that in the UK are only licensed for use by adults.
The number of young people receiving prescriptions for these drugs has increased 15-fold since 1999.
However, most stop using them before they could expect to see any benefit.
The study showed that more than three quarters of those included in the study received prescriptions for orlistat, also known as Xenical or Alli.
Orlistat has been approved for children as young as 12 in the US, but only for adults in the UK.
Most patients given orlistat stopped using it very quickly, on average after just three months, and therefore would have been unlikely to see any benefit.
“It”s possible that the drugs are being given inappropriately, or that they have excessive side effects that make young people discontinue their use,” said Russell Viner, one of the authors of the study based at the General & Adolescent Paediatrics Unit at University College London.
On the other hand they could be expecting the drugs to deliver a miracle “quick fix” and stop using them when sudden, rapid weight loss does not occur, he added.
Study author Ian Wong says that children who are prescribed orlistat may need more support and should be made fully aware of the potential side effects, which include loose, oily stools if fat intake is not reduced.
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Source:The study appears in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.