Most Patients Stop Taking Obesity Medications Within a Year, Study Finds

New research from December 2023 indicates that adherence to anti-obesity medications remains a major challenge, with the vast majority of patients discontinuing treatment within one year. However, newer drugs like Wegovy are showing higher rates of long-term usage that may improve health outcomes.

Research Shows 80% Discontinue Treatment by One Year

According to new research from the Cleveland Clinic ( 1 ), about 80% of patients prescribed medications for obesity stop taking them within one year.

While the effectiveness of these drugs appears linked to whether patients continue treatment long-term, side effects, and insurance restrictions may also influence adherence.

Wegovy Has the Highest Adherence Rate

The study examined adherence rates for several anti-obesity medications, including semaglutide (Wegovy), naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave), and phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia). It found that Wegovy, approved by the FDA in 2021, had the highest level of adherence after one year, with 40% of patients remaining on treatment.

In comparison, only around 10% continued taking Contrave, approved in 2014. The research did not specify one-year adherence for Qsymia.

According to a Wegovy clinical trial, patients lost an average of 12.4% of their initial body weight after 68 weeks on the drug. Experts suggest its effectiveness in leading to significant weight loss may make patients more likely to adhere to the treatment regimen.

Effectiveness and Side Effects Influence Adherence

“The ability of these medications to help people lose weight and keep it off appears directly related to whether patients continue taking them as prescribed,” said Dr. Prakash Surampudi, an endocrinologist at UCLA.

While the study did not look at reasons for treatment discontinuation, experts believe side effects and the perception that obesity medication is a short-term solution factor in. Insurance restrictions may also play a role. Some reports indicate that employers place limits on coverage for anti-obesity drugs due to costs and the potential for regaining weight after stopping treatment.

New Medications May Improve Long-Term Outcomes

The research did not include findings for the recently approved tirzepatide (Zepbound), which trials show leads to an average of 26% weight loss over 88 weeks. If the drug’s increased effectiveness translates to higher adherence rates, it could become an important long-term treatment option for many patients.

The key is finding an obesity treatment that each patient feels comfortable maintaining over time,” said Dr. Surampudi. “Personal preference and tolerability of medication side effects should guide the decision-making process.”

As more obesity medications come to market and long-term data emerges, researchers stress the importance of identifying solutions that optimize adherence while producing clinically meaningful weight loss. With the personal and societal burden of obesity steadily rising, determining optimal medical therapies will benefit both patients and the healthcare system.

  1. Gasoyan, H., Saxon, D. R., Rothberg, M. B., & Miller, L. (2023). Persistence with antiobesity medication and associated weight loss: A retrospective cohort study. Obesity31 (1), 123-135.