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Research suggests that a significant portion of individuals prescribed weight loss medications, such as Wegovy and Saxenda, discontinue their use before reaching the maximum benefit. More than half of those studied quit the medications before 12 weeks, with 30% stopping within the first four weeks before reaching their target dose. These medications, known as GLP-1 antagonists, work by mimicking a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar, reduce hunger, and increase the feeling of fullness by delaying stomach emptying. However, to achieve maximum weight loss benefits, individuals must remain on these drugs for an extended period, potentially beyond 12 weeks.

Experts emphasize the importance of long-term use of weight loss medications to achieve clinically meaningful weight loss and reduce cardiometabolic diseases associated with obesity. Dr. Diana Thiara, the medical director of the UCSF Weight Management Clinic, explains that these medications may take up to five months to reach an effective dose, requiring chronic use for maintenance of weight loss. Building up dosage over time is crucial to reaching the highest therapeutic dose, which typically takes six months with semaglutide. Despite this evidence, the Blue Shield research found that 3 in 10 people stop taking weight loss medications before reaching their target dose, indicating a need for greater adherence.

Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company behind Wegovy and Saxenda, highlights various barriers that may impact a patient’s ability to adhere to treatment, such as disease bias, supply constraints, and access to medicines. They stress that obesity is a chronic, progressive disease that necessitates long-term medical management, comparable to high blood pressure or high cholesterol. For individuals with obesity-related health issues, weight loss medications may be a viable option when other avenues have been unsuccessful, but long-term use is essential to experience the full benefits.

In the United States, the obesity epidemic affects a large proportion of the population, with 73% of adults aged 20 and older classified as overweight or obese. A 2023 survey revealed that 45% of individuals are interested in taking prescription weight loss drugs if they are safe and effective. The National Institutes of Health recommend weight loss medications for adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, or 27 or greater with obesity-related health issues like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Factors like cost, healthcare access, medication availability, and side effects can all contribute to individuals discontinuing the use of weight loss medications.

Research indicates that individuals prescribed weight loss medications by specialized healthcare providers, such as obesity medicine specialists or endocrinologists, are more likely to adhere to treatment for an extended period. Nevertheless, experts stress that long-term use of weight loss medications is essential for sustained weight loss and overall health benefits. Dr. Dan Azagury, a bariatric surgeon, advises patients prescribed weight loss medications to be prepared for ongoing use to prevent weight regain that may occur upon discontinuation. By understanding the importance of extended treatment with these medications, individuals can maximize their weight loss outcomes and manage obesity-related health issues effectively.

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