Obesity continues to be a prevalent health issue globally, with millions of individuals struggling to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. In recent years, a new generation of obesity drugs has emerged, promising dramatic weight loss results. However, concerns have been raised regarding the long-term effects of these medications. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association sheds light on the potential consequences of discontinuing treatment with these drugs.
The study focused on the effects of tirzepatide, a compound found in Eli Lilly’s weight loss drug Zepbound, which received United States approval just last month. Over the course of 36 weeks, 670 adults experienced a significant average weight loss of 20.9 percent. However, when the participants were split into two groups after this initial period, striking differences in weight regain became apparent.
One group continued taking Zepbound, while the other group received a placebo. After 88 weeks, those on the placebo regained nearly half of the weight they had lost, ending up 9.9 percent lower than their baseline. In contrast, those who continued taking Zepbound continued to lose weight, with a final weight 25.3 percent lower than their starting point. These findings highlight the potential for long-term dependence on obesity drugs, as discontinuation often results in weight regain.
The study’s authors, led by Louis Aronne at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, emphasize the need for ongoing pharmacotherapy to prevent weight regain and sustain weight reduction. They argue that previous trials have also demonstrated substantial weight regain following the discontinuation of anti-obesity medications, including potent drugs like semaglutide.
Several obesity drugs, such as Zepbound, employ GLP-1 agonists like semaglutide, which mimic the function of a hormone that secretes insulin, slows down stomach emptying, and suppresses appetite. These medications have shown promise in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with obesity. However, they also increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.
While serious side effects are relatively uncommon, experts express concerns about the potential risks associated with long-term use of obesity drugs. Prolonged use over years or decades may alter the benefit-to-risk ratio, warranting further investigation. Additionally, the high cost of these drugs poses a significant barrier, with Zepbound priced at $1,059.87 per month. Moreover, insurance companies often do not cover weight loss medications, further limiting accessibility.
Jeff Emmick, a representative from Eli Lilly, highlights the misconception surrounding obesity as a chronic disease. Many patients, providers, and members of the public fail to recognize that sustained treatment is often necessary, even after weight goals are initially met. This realization underscores the need for comprehensive support systems and a shift in public understanding of obesity as a lifelong condition.
The study’s findings provide crucial insights into the long-term consequences of discontinuing treatment with obesity drugs. While these medications may result in dramatic weight loss, patients often face challenges in maintaining their weight once they stop taking them. Continued pharmacotherapy appears to be necessary to prevent weight regain and ensure the sustainability of weight reduction. As the understanding of obesity evolves, it is imperative that healthcare providers, researchers, and policymakers address the complexities of this chronic disease and prioritize comprehensive and accessible treatment options.