Pharmacotherapy, the use of prescribed medication, has been a treatment option for people living with obesity since the 1940’s. There are currently 4 drugs approved by the FDA being prescribed today and many more are being researched. Unlike popular beliefs these drug are not meant to induce extreme weight loss. Research on all obesity drugs aim to achieve at least a 5% weight reduction which is the FDA requirement for approval. This type of treatment is to improve the health of individuals who are living with obesity and associated comorbidities. Pharmacotherapy is not a magic pill, it is a form of treatment. Many people experience stigma and shame when seeking this option. The stigma associated with treatment comes from people not fully acknowledging obesity as a chronic disease. After all, no one judges someone for receiving medical treatment for other chronic illnesses.
Would you judge someone for taking insulin…
All four drugs currently approved; phentermine/topiramate CR, liraglutide, naltrexone ER/bupropion ER and orlistat come with associated risk. If you’re considering starting treatment make sure to be informed of the side effects. Prescription of these drugs should be accompanied by nutrition, behavioral and physical counseling to improve overall health. The effect on weight will plateau with time, however the use of pharmacotherapy should be initiated with the intent of lifelong usage. If the drugs are discontinued weight regain will happen, especially if they were started without any other counseling.
It is agreed in the medical community that the first line of obesity intervention should be via nutrition, physical and behavioral counseling. We also know long term weight loss retention is not a reliable option. A focus should be placed on health outcomes rather than weight. For people who are suffering from obesity related chronic illness and have already had the first line of intervention, pharmacotherapy can help.