Semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®) and liraglutide (Saxenda®) are members of the GLP-1 agonist class of drugs. These prescription medications help improve blood sugar control and are often prescribed to diabetic patients. In non-diabetic patients who are overweight or obese, certain GLP-1 agonists are also approved by the FDA to help with weight control.

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What is obesity?

Obesity is a chronic health condition that affects an increasing number of people worldwide. In the United States, more than 70% of adults are overweight (often defined as having a BMI of 25-29 kg/m2), and more than 40% have obesity (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2). Complications of obesity include diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression, and a reduced life expectancy. Because modest weight reduction can reduce many of these complications, scientists have developed prescription medications to help obese and overweight individuals achieve better weight control and have healthier, longer lives.

What are weight loss medications?

Since the 1990’s, multiple prescription medications have been evaluated and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight management in overweight or obese individuals. Some of these drugs were better known for their undesirable side effects than for their weight loss benefits. Orlistat (Xenical®), which was approved by the FDA in 1999, was associated with oily rectal leakage, gassiness, or abnormal bowel movements. Lorcaserin (Belviq®), approved by the FDA in 2012, was withdrawn from the market in 2020 due to concerns that it caused cancer. There are also several so-called “weight loss supplements.” Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What are some new weight loss medications?

In 2014, the FDA approved liraglutide (Saxenda®) for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with weight-related medical conditions, and the FDA expanded the approval age range to those aged 12 and older in 2020. In 2021, the FDA approved semaglutide (Wegovy®) for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, or high cholesterol.