The most effective drug intervention for the treatment of obesity is now available and has acclaimed the label “weight loss wonder drug” and a “game changer” weight loss solution. In a recently published study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Semaglutide treatment was shown to result in an average weight-loss of nearly 15% of baseline weight in comparison to 2.4% for placebo after 68 weeks of treatment. Based on these study results, this treatment is 1.5 to two times more effective than other available drugs on the market and sets the bar for a new generation of more effective weight-loss medications.
For 68 weeks, nearly 2,000 participants injected themselves weekly with either semaglutide or a placebo. Both groups received the same counseling for nutrition and exercise. On average, over half of those who received semaglutide lost nearly 15% of their body weight, and over a third of the group who received semaglutide achieved a weight loss of at least 20% of their weight.
Starting from an average baseline weight of 230 lbs., participant average weight-loss was 14.5% (34 lbs.) compared to 2.4% (5 lbs.) for the placebo group. Furthermore, 70% of study participants reached a weight-loss of at least 10% of their baseline weight, and one-third lost at least 20% (46 lbs.) of their weight. Many health concerns seen in people who are struggling with their weight, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and arthritic pain of the knees improve when they reach these levels of weight-loss. Side effects from the drug included mild-to-moderate nausea and diarrhea and generally resolved without permanent discontinuation from the study.
Currently, 42.4% of all adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, defined as having a body mass index at or above 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Q&A with Dr. Taylor Kantor
Do you think semaglutide merits the term “game changer”?
This a major step in moving forward towards more substantial weight loss with the use of medication. Previous weight-loss medications available achieve about 4.9 percent to 10 percent weight loss. This study showed 15 percent weight loss on average, which is significant also for decreasing a person’s comorbidities: diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension.
You’ve reviewed the Northwestern study. Does it look impressive?
Absolutely. It’s the gold standard of looking at a new intervention, which is a randomized controlled trial. It has about 1,900 patients in various locations throughout the world, so it’s a large study with great diversity. I think it is an impressive trial that shows great effectiveness.
Is there a concern for patients saying, “Now that I have this game-changing drug, I’m not going to worry about diet or exercise”?
In the study, it is emphasizes in the first pages that healthy eating and exercise are the cornerstone to all weight loss and cardiovascular health. In every weight-loss medication intervention trial that I’ve seen, lifestyle modifications are always implemented for the placebo and intervention groups. Pharma-therapy is something that we add to lifestyle interventions. It is never considered to be something that should ever replace lifestyle interventions.
Are you concerned about any potential side effects from the higher dosage that Northwestern used to treat obese patients?
The medications are titrated. They start at a low dose, and semaglutide is increased every four weeks to slowly progress towards a dose of 2.4 [milligrams]. The most common side effects are gastrointestinal—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation. I make this clear to patients and tell them to let me know if side effects are experienced. From there, we can increase the dose slower or find a different solution. There are things we can do to help—for example, if patients eat beyond feeling full, that is when they start experiencing more nausea. We do our best to assure patients are well aware of the potential side effects and give them suggestions that can help them avoid triggering side effects.