Nearly half of U.S. adults would be interested in taking a safe, effective prescription weight loss drug, according to the results of a new poll.
GLP-1 medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro are growing in popularity. The new poll from KFF, formerly referred to as the Kaiser Family Foundation, reports that 70 percent of Americans say they have heard at least “a little” about these drugs being used for weight loss.
The new poll of 1,327 people across the U.S. was conducted July 11–19, 2023, online and via telephone. Of those interested in similar medications, nearly 61% said they are currently trying to lose weight and nearly half said they are trying to lose less than 40 pounds.
And, nearly half of the participants said they would be interested in taking a safe and effective prescription weight loss drug.
But, the poll also found that certain aspects of these weight loss medications impacted participants’ interest in them.
The poll found that certain aspects of weight loss medications provided an obstacle to public perception. The poll found that many people, upon learning of these characteristics of the drug, were turned off from the idea of taking them.
Firstly, when people learned these drugs are administered by injection, they lost interest; only 23% remained interested after this fact was shared with them.
However, clinical trials are underway to study the efficacy of these drugs when taken in pill form. When that option is available, interest may increase to where it was previously.
Insurance also provides a hurdle in the public perception of weight loss drugs.
To pay for these medications without insurance, individuals may be asked to pay about $900 to $1,000 per month.
And, more and more people are having to foot the bill.
Due to the high cost to insure these medications, some large employers are no longer covering them for their employees. For example, last month, Ascension notified its almost 140,000 employees that it no longer covers weight loss and anti-obesity medications.
The University of Texas put out a similar statement saying that in September it will stop coverage of the medications.
The KFF poll found that only 16% of people are interested in taking them in instances where the drugs aren’t covered by insurance.
“Lack of insurance coverage is a valid concern related to anti-obesity medications; however, individuals with obesity shouldn’t be discouraged if a certain medication isn’t covered,” Katherine H. Saunders, MD, member of Obesity Action Coalition and clinical assistant professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Health. “There may be other options in the armamentarium,” she said.
FDA approval—or the lack thereof—is also a hindrance to many potential consumers.
Only 16% of people polled remained interested in these medications if they are not approved by the FDA for weight loss specifically.
Currently, Ozempic is FDA-approved to lower blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus, in addition to diet and exercise. Ozempic is also approved to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus and known heart disease.
Wegovy injection is FDA-approved to help people age 12 and older who have obesity or are overweight and also have weight-related medical problems, to lose weight, in addition to diet and exercise.
“Not everyone who is interested needs these medicines. There might be lifestyle interventions or other medicines that might be more appropriate once someone’s unique biology is considered,” Rekha Kumar, MD, practicing endocrinologist in NYC and Chief Medical Officer of Found, told Health.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to the public interest is the fact that these weight loss medications require continued use in order to work effectively.
When poll respondents learned that as soon as the GLP-1 medications are stopped, weight gain occurs, only 14% stayed interested.
“Of course, individuals who lose weight on anti-obesity medications regain weight when they stop medications because obesity is a chronic disease that requires long-term treatment for weight loss and, more importantly, weight maintenance,” Saunders said.
She drew the comparison to high blood pressure medication.
“Would you expect to cure your high blood pressure by taking an antihypertensive medication short-term and then stopping? Of course not,” she said. “Your blood pressure would increase after stopping the medication.”
Still, the drop in interest doesn’t surprise her because she said people are often interested in anti-obesity medications when they think of them as short-term “weight loss drugs” rather than long-term treatment.
“Despite our education and support, some of our patients end up stopping their anti-obesity medications for a variety of reasons,” said Saunders. “People sometimes report that they want to see how they do off medications. I can’t think of a single patient who didn’t regain most or all of their weight after discontinuing.”
Kumar noted that all the concerns around GLP-1s are valid.
“The people who are expressing these concerns seem to be thinking longer term about staying on medicine for weight management versus what we have seen over the past year where people impulsively wanted to start these medicines without a good understanding of longer-term implications,” she said.
As more and more people become aware of anti-obesity medications like Ozempic and other GLP-1s, Saunders said an increase in obesity awareness is also occurring.
“More people acknowledge that obesity is a complex, heterogeneous, chronic, and refractory disease that requires ongoing medical intervention for most individuals to lose weight and maintain weight loss long-term,” she said.
However, despite the public’s interest in these medications, she noted that they are still widely misunderstood by many people.
She reiterated that anti-obesity medications may be appropriate for people with obesity (BMI of at least 30) or those who are overweight (BMI of at least 27) with at least one weight-related medical condition.
“Even when people with obesity meet BMI criteria (and the utility of BMI is a big debate),” Saunders said, “not everyone is a good candidate for every medication.”