The role of pharmacotherapy in obesity

Pharmacotherapy can supplement healthy eating and physical activity to help patients achieve increased weight loss. Discover the important role it can play in long-term weight management.1,2

The principles of pharmacology

Lifestyle modifications like healthy eating and physical activity are foundational to obesity management. Sometimes, they are not enough to achieve long-term health benefits and an anti-obesity medication is needed.1-3

For appropriate patients, pharmacological treatments are part of a comprehensive approach to long-term weight management.2

3 guiding principles4

Principles to follow when considering pharmacotherapy for patients with obesity

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Reinforce patient efforts

Pharmacotherapy is meant to reinforce patient lifestyle efforts, not replace them

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Understand side effects

HCPs and patients should both be familiar with the medication and its potential side effects and contraindications

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Every patient is different

If clinically meaningful weight loss (≥5%) is not achieved after 3-4 months, a new treatment plan should be implemented

Most patients living with obesity are not able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight with healthy eating and increased physical activity alone2

Some pharmacological treatments may benefit patients who:

  • Have tried lifestyle changes but can’t reach a healthier weight
  • Are regaining weight after losing it
  • Have a BMI of ≥27kg/m2 and a weight-related comorbidity
  • Have a BMI that is >30kg/m2

Different medications may help the patient to lower appetite, decrease the amount of fat the body absorbs, or reduce cravings.2,5

Adding pharmacotherapy to a lifestyle plan may improve weight-loss results6a

Graph depicting differences in mean percentage weight reduction over 72 weeks between anti-obesity medication users and non-users

aData from a retrospective study evaluating the impact of anti-obesity medications over 72 weeks in 129 adults with obesity (≥30 kg/m²) participating in a comprehensive precision weight-loss program.6

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Obesity treatment case studies

Review case studies about patients with obesity that may be similar to patients you see in your own practice.


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1. Pilitsi E, Farr OM, Polyzos SA, et al. Pharmacotherapy of obesity: available medications and drugs under investigation. Metabolism. 2019;92:170-192.

2. Garvey WT, Mechanick JI, Brett EM, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology comprehensive clinical practice guidelines for medical care of patients with obesity. Endocr Pract. 2016;22(suppl 3):1-203.

3. Bray GA, Kim KK, Wilding JPH. Obesity: a chronic relapsing progressive disease. A position statement of the World Obesity Federation. Obes Rev. 2017;18(7):715-723.

4. Bray GA, Frühbeck G, Ryan DH, Wilding JP. Management of obesity. Lancet. 2016;387(10031):1947-1956.

5. Kim GW, Lin JE, Blomain ES, et al. Antiobesity pharmacotherapy: new drugs and emerging targets. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2014;95(1):53-66.

6. Safavi R, Lih A, Kirkpatrick S, Haller S, Bailony MR. Impact of anti-obesity medication initiation and duration on weight loss in a comprehensive weight loss programme. Obes Sci Pract. 2019;5(5):468-478.


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