New obesity drugs show promising weight loss, but long-term dependence raises concerns

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A recent study sheds light on the effects of a new generation of obesity drugs, raising concerns about long-term dependence on these medications.

These drugs can lead to significant weight loss, but what happens when people stop taking them?

The research focused on tirzepatide, the main component of Eli Lilly’s newly approved weight loss drug called Zepbound. After 36 weeks of treatment with tirzepatide, 670 adults experienced an average weight loss of 20.9 percent.

The participants were then divided into two groups: one continued taking Zepbound, while the other received a placebo. Over the next 88 weeks, those on the placebo regained nearly half of the weight they had lost, ending up 9.9 percent below their initial weight.

In contrast, those who continued taking Zepbound continued to lose weight, with a final weight that was 25.3 percent lower than their starting weight. The study primarily involved women with an average age of 48 and an initial weight of around 236.6 pounds.

All participants were advised to consume 500 fewer calories per day than they burned and engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. The study reported common side effects, including gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.

The results of this study highlight the importance of continued pharmacotherapy to prevent weight regain and maintain weight reduction. Previous research has also shown that weight is often regained after discontinuing the use of anti-obesity medications.

One example of such medications is semaglutide, found in Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy, which, like Zepbound, belong to a class of drugs known as “GLP-1 agonists.”

These drugs mimic the function of a hormone that regulates insulin secretion, slows stomach emptying, and suppresses appetite.

In response to the study, Jeff Emmick from Lilly stated that obesity is a chronic disease that often requires ongoing treatment. Sometimes, treatment is stopped once weight loss goals are achieved.

GLP-1 agonists have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with obesity but can also increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems.

While the rates of severe side effects like stomach paralysis are low, some experts are concerned about the potential risks associated with long-term use of these drugs.

Additionally, the high cost of obesity medications, such as Zepbound, which costs over $1,000 per month, can be a barrier for many people.

Insurance companies often do not cover these medications, and Medicare, the state-subsidized insurance for the elderly, is prohibited from covering them.

In conclusion, while new obesity drugs offer hope for significant weight loss, concerns about potential long-term dependence and cost raise important questions about their use and effectiveness in managing obesity.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA.

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