November 28, 2023

The new generation of safe and effective weight loss drugs seems to have helped boost the US profile of such medications and has fueled interest in nearly half the US adult population.

A recent survey of more than 1000 US adults showed that 18% were “somewhat interested” in taking a “safe, effective” weight loss drug, 27% were “very interested,” and 4% said they were already using such an agent, together constituting 49% of the surveyed adults.

The newer, more potent and generally safe agents that work by stimulating receptors to nutrient-stimulated hormones, such as incretins like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), seem to drive this interest.

When asked, “How much have you heard, if anything, about a new class of drugs being used for weight loss, such as Ozempic, [semaglutide formulated and approved for people with type 2 diabetes], Wegovy, [semaglutide for weight loss], and Mounjaro, [tirzepatide, currently only approved for treating people with type 2 diabetes]?” 43% said they had heard some, or a lot, about these agents.

This was particularly true among people at least 65 years old, who had a 55% prevalence of knowing some, or a lot, about these new weight-loss agents, while an additional 26% had heard at least “a little” about them, reported staff members of KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation) in a report posted online in early August. 

Weight-Loss Drugs Garner ‘Increasing’ Attention

“A new class of prescription drugs, initially developed to treat type 2 diabetes, have been garnering an increasing amount of attention due to their ability to act as highly effective weight-loss drugs for overweight or obese adults,” write the report’s authors.

However, surveyed interest fell markedly when respondents answered further questions that hinged on certain limitations of the newer weight-loss formulations.

For example, the percent interested held nearly steady, at 44%, when told the weight-loss agent in question was an oral pill, but when asked about formulations requiring weekly injections the prevalence of people who had some interest, or were very interested, dropped to 23%. And when presented with the premise that they would need to take the drug chronically to keep their weight off and that stopping the agent would mean weight regain, those with “higher levels of interest” in the agent fell to 14% of the study sample.

Other deal breakers for most survey respondents were lack of a weight-loss indication approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, a hypothetical that left 16% still somewhat or very interested, and lack of insurance coverage, which also dropped the higher interest levels to 16% of respondents. On the flip side of that sentiment, 80% of survey respondents believe that health insurance should cover the cost for a prescription weight-loss drug for people with overweight or obesity.

The survey was designed and analyzed by public-opinion researchers at KFF and run both online and by telephone in both English and Spanish during July 11-19, 2023. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample but may have been even higher for results based on subgroup analyses.

The survey report includes no funding or disclosure information. However, KFF describes itself as “independent” and “nonpartisan” and that it “does everything based on facts and data, and we do so objectively without taking policy positions and without affiliation to any political party or external interest.”

Mitchel L. Zoler is a reporter with Medscape and MDedge based in the Philadelphia region. @mitchelzoler.

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