A Statistic That Sums It Up: 15 percent.
That’s the median weight loss experienced by people who take Wegovy, a drug from Novo Nordisk.
The new drugs are the first truly effective obesity medicines. They act by stemming people’s appetites and cravings for food. Many patients started by taking Ozempic, a diabetes drug also by Novo Nordisk that led to weight loss as a side effect. But many more patients are asking for Wegovy, which is approved for obesity. Mounjaro, made by Eli Lilly and approved for treating diabetes, is expected to be approved soon for obesity. People taking it lose a median of 20 percent of their body weight.
Background: Attitudes about obesity and the drugs are shifting.
Obesity is a chronic disease that can result in diabetes and other conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea and joint problems.
But it was so difficult to treat obesity that many doctors and patients had all but given up.
Dr. David A. D’Alessio, director of endocrinology at Duke University and a member of Eli Lilly’s scientific advisory board, said he had resisted starting a weight-loss clinic at his university. Patients who are told to diet and exercise “get defeated over and over again,” he said.
Now, he said, he has changed his mind.
The shifts in attitude about obesity can also be seen in the KFF survey, said Dr. Ania Jastreboff, an endocrinologist and obesity-medicine specialist at Yale University and a consultant for the makers of the new drugs. After decades of hearing that losing weight was just a matter of exerting willpower, most of the public is intensely interested in medical treatments.
“Previously,” she said, “that was not the case.”
What’s Next: New drugs and methods.
Obesity-medicine specialists say new drugs that are even more powerful than Wegovy and Mounjaro are going to change prospects for people with obesity in a way that has eluded researchers for decades.
While price and insurance coverage pose problems for patients, health economists expect prices to come down as more drugs are approved and companies face competition. Private insurers are also being pressured to pay; for now, many do not. Medicare is forbidden by law to pay for weight-loss drugs, although there is an intense lobbying effort to change that.
While the KFF survey showed that many potential patients resisted injection, the delivery of the drug with a thin, short needle is quick and easy, said Dr. Robert F. Kushner, an obesity-medicine specialist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“In my experience, people find a weekly self-injection OK since it takes less than one minute and is a lot easier than they thought,” said Dr. Kushner, who is on the advisory board for Novo Nordisk.
Some companies are also studying an oral version of the medications.