It’s time to consider pharmacotherapy for obesity

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The article in this issue by Bersoux et al on pharmacotherapy to manage obesity1 is apropos in light of a recent study2 showing that patients are filling 15 times more prescriptions for antidiabetic medications (excluding insulin) than for antiobesity drugs. What makes this finding significant is that nearly 3 times more adults meet the criteria for use of antiobesity drugs than for antidiabetic drugs—116 million vs 30 million, respectively.

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This underuse of antiobesity medications has been noted in other studies. In 1 study,3 only about 2% of adults eligible for weight-loss drug therapy received a prescription. Conversely, about 86% of adults diagnosed with diabetes received antidiabetic medications.3


This underuse of weight-loss drugs occurs despite our understanding that obesity is a risk factor for developing diabetes and that weight loss in obese patients reduces the risk.

The landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study found that even modest weight loss of 7% reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 58% in overweight and prediabetic individuals.4 Additionally, a 5% to 10% weight loss can lead to significant improvements in many comorbidities, including diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.

Antiobesity medications can help patients achieve weight-loss goals, especially if lifestyle and behavioral modifications alone have been unsuccessful. Data show that these drugs result in an average weight loss of 5% to 15% when added to diet and exercise.


Why are practitioners reluctant to prescribe these drugs despite the worsening obesity epidemic and despite knowing that obesity is a risk factor for diabetes? Many of us who practice obesity medicine believe there are several reasons.

One barrier is the misconception that obesity does not warrant treatment with weight-loss medications, even though most practitioners will readily admit that patients cannot achieve effective, durable, and meaningful weight loss with behavioral changes and lifestyle modifications alone.

Other barriers stem from issues such as time constraints in the office, lack of training to treat this condition, and not enough data on the newer chronic weight-loss medications. And there are stringent requirements for patient follow-up once a medication has been initiated. Finally, it’s often difficult to obtain insurance coverage.

Addressing the barriers

Of these, I believe the biggest barrier for busy practitioners is finding the time and effort they need to devote to prescribing weight-loss medications. There are ways to address these issues.

Regarding time constraints, practitioners can discuss weight loss at follow-up visits and refer patients to obesity specialists. Regarding gaps in training and knowledge of obesity management, there are consensus guidelines for the identification, evaluation, and treatment of the overweight or obese individual.5–7 Guidelines provide extensive information on the pharmacologic treatment of obesity. These resources provide valuable evidence-based recommendations on how to manage this chronic disease.

Next Article:

Pharmacotherapy for obesity: What you need to know

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