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Nearly two-thirds of people stop taking weight loss drugs due to side effects and cost

The majority of patients prescribed weight loss drugs for obesity stop taking them because of side effects and cost, according to the results of a survey from HealthCentral, a digital platform focused on informing and empowering people with chronic and serious disease. More than 200 people responded to the online survey, conducted from 1 March to 1 April 2024.

More than 28% said they stopped taking the drugs due to side effects, while one in four said they stopped for other reasons, which included cost. The drugs are often not covered by health insurers and neither Medicare nor Medicaid cover the drugs for weight loss. Only 11% said they stopped because the medication did not help them lose weight, while 35% said the drugs worked for them and they remain on them.

Of the people with obesity who had not tried the new medications, 29% pointed to concerns about side effects, while one in four (25%) cited costs, which in the US can cost $900 to $1,300 per month or more without insurance coverage. The majority of respondents (86%) said they would be willing to pay about $100 per month.

The survey comes as new obesity medications, known as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists, are transforming the treatment of obesity, even as they spark debate about access, side effects, and the challenges of long-term use. The drugs can cause nausea, diarrhoea, and constipation, and less common but more serious problems such as inflammation of the pancreas or gastroparesis, in which the emptying of the stomach is delayed.

The survey is part of a HealthCentral series which includes the latest on obesity science; the role of exercise in managing obesity and lowering risk; GLP-1s and health disparities; the emotional impact of obesity medications, and whether BMI and weigh-ins at the doctor's office still matter.

Most respondents (72.7%) had been told by a physician that their body weight contributed to a health issue; 41% had tried an anti-obesity medication, most often via a prescription from their doctor. A smaller percentage, 11%, got the medication online.

The cost of GLP-1 drugs influences how patients with obesity view the medications. While 30% see the drugs as necessary for treatment of obesity and/or diabetes, nearly one in five said the treatment cost means the drugs are only for those with insurance that will cover them or for the wealthy. More than 25% said the medications should be used only as a last resort and smaller percentages said it was either a useful weight loss option (14%) or a fad that will fade (12%).

"While it's clear that GLP-1 medications are changing the treatment paradigm for people with obesity, our survey shows that issues surrounding cost, access, disparities, and staying on the medications long-term are influencing how patients view these drugs and their disease overall," said Jo-Ann Strangis, Chief Content Officer, HealthCentral. "As use of the drugs continues to skyrocket, it's crucial that we focus on the issues that impact patients struggling to manage their weight."


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