Weight loss medications and injections versus healthy lifestyle change: Which is more effective? And which is better for your health in the long-term? In this article, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of weight loss medication and why it’s important to prioritize lifestyle change for long-term health.
Several medications created to treat type II diabetes are now commonly prescribed off-label for weight loss. Wegovy, a brand name for the generic medication semaglutide, is the most recent of these to be approved by the FDA specifically for chronic weight management.
Other flashy weight loss medications include Ozempic (another brand name for semaglutide) and Mounjaro (the brand name for tirzepatide). Along with Wegovy, these medications are now so popularly prescribed for weight loss that manufacturers are facing supply shortages.
Additionally, insurers are now flagging the practice of prescribing medications off-label for weight loss. While off-label medications are not typically covered, insurers contend that a lack of documentation is enabling patients to get coverage for medications like Ozempic for weight loss anyway.
For people who are trying to lose weight, a weekly dose of medication may seem like a magic bullet. However, it is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of this approach before seeking out a prescription.
The Benefits & Drawbacks of Weight Loss Medication
One obvious benefit is that there is evidence that weight loss medications do help patients reduce their weight. For example, one research study on semaglutide treatment in overweight or obese patients resulted in 5.9% weight loss at 3 months and 10.9% at 6 months.
Keep in mind that the reality of taking medication for weight loss isn’t always so simple. Some of the disadvantages of this approach include negative side effects, high cost, and dependency.
For starters, weight loss medication is shown to cause side effects for an overwhelming majority of patients. The most common side effect from semaglutide, for example, is nausea and vomiting. And according to one study, 90% of patients experienced at least one side effect from semaglutide injections.
There is also a risk of rare but serious health problems from taking weight loss medication. According to the FDA, these include medullary thyroid cancer and inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis.
Next, weight loss medications can be expensive, costing upwards of $1300 per month. Most insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover weight loss medications like Wegovy or Ozempic. As a result, patients are often responsible for the full out-of-pocket cost.
Lastly, medications are not a permanent solution to weight loss. In fact, once patients stop taking the medication, they typically gain the weight back. For example, one study found that people on Wegovy who stopped taking it regained an average of two-thirds of the weight they lost.
Healthy Lifestyle Change
The most important thing to keep in mind with weight loss medications is that most studies paired this intervention with lifestyle changes like increased exercise and reduced caloric intake. If you are prescribed weight loss medication, the prescription will most likely always include lifestyle modification as well.
This is because lifestyle modification has benefits beyond just weight loss, and virtually no drawbacks. Lifestyle change is more holistic, more sustainable, and more effective than medication alone.
First, lifestyle change encompasses more than just weight loss. It helps you build healthy habits that can improve your cardiovascular health, reduce your risk of chronic disease, boost your strength, flexibility, and mobility, and reduce chronic inflammation and pain.
Second, lifestyle modification is more sustainable than weight loss medication in the long-term. By incorporating healthy habits into your day-to-day life, you establish a routine that will continuously benefit your health long after your prescription ends.
Lastly, even when taking weight loss medication, it is crucial to make lifestyle modifications in conjunction with the treatment for optimal results. According to one study, participants who made lifestyle modifications in addition to taking weight loss medication lost over twice as much weight as participants who only took medication.
The Bottom Line
While certain medications can help with weight loss, remember that there is no replacement for a healthy lifestyle. Medication is a short-term solution designed to assist with weight loss in conjunction with lifestyle modification. For sustainable, long-term reductions in weight and improvements to overall health, it’s best to implement healthy lifestyle changes.