AARP Eye Center
Weight loss medication gets a bad rap, and it's not hard to understand why. Over the years, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs have been disappointing, with lackluster results and unpleasant side effects. Others have turned out to be dangerous or even deadly. Is the newly approved semaglutide any different? Obesity experts think so.
The drug, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early June and sold under the brand name Wegovy, is for “chronic weight management” in clinically obese adults, who are defined as those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. But people considered merely overweight, with a BMI of at least 27, are also eligible, provided they have at least one weight-related ailment, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.
Semaglutide isn't a new drug but rather a repurposed one; the same active ingredient has been on the market since 2017 as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Use of the drug as a once-weekly injection designed to lower blood sugar often leads to some weight loss — especially among patients who take the 1 mg-per-week dose instead of the lower .5-mg option.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
Thanks to the new FDA approval, an even higher dose of semaglutide, 2.4 mg, will now be sold specifically for weight loss under the brand name Wegovy.
Drug trials show a third lost 20 percent of their body weight
The drug's manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, conducted several studies on the safety and efficacy of the 2.4-mg dose before applying to the FDA for approval. The largest study, a 68-week double-blind trial of nearly 2,000 obese adults who did not have diabetes, found that people who took 2.4 mg of semaglutide weekly — in addition to participating in a diet and exercise program — lost significantly more weight than those who made the same lifestyle changes but were given placebo injections.
Half of the participants in the semaglutide group were able to lose at least 15 percent of their body weight, and nearly a third were able to lose 20 percent. (Those in the placebo group lost only about 2.4 percent of their starting weight.)
"The data is pretty impressive,” says Jennifer L. Kirby, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Virginia Health System. “We have a limited amount of tools in our toolbox when it comes to the treatment of overweight and obesity. The addition of semaglutide is excellent news."