Most Americans Do Not Use Weight-Loss Drugs Long Enough to See Meaningful Weight-Loss

Largest study to date highlights factors that can help patients succeed

WASHINGTON – Despite the explosion in demand for weight loss drugs known as GLP-1s, 58% of patients discontinue use before reaching a clinically meaningful health benefit. This is the key finding from new research released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and conducted by Blue Health Intelligence® (BHI) based on data from nearly 170,000 commercial health plan members since the first FDA approval for a weight-loss GLP-1 in 2014.  

“When patients take medication, we want it to be safe and effective,” said Razia Hashmi MD, MPH, FAAFP, vice president of Clinical Affairs at BCBSA. “This study shows most people are unlikely to see lasting benefits.  Unfortunately, weight loss isn’t as simple as filling a prescription.”

In the largest study using commercial data to date on this topic, BHI’s assessment also found that 30% of patients discontinued use of the medications within the first month. 

“This study underscores how much more we have to learn about these medications,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “The science behind these drugs is moving faster than our ability to truly understand which patients will benefit, how to sustain their success and how to pay for them. If we don’t get it right, we will drive up costs for everyone with little to show for it.” 

In the United States, seven out of 10 adults and three out of 10 children are overweight or suffer from obesity. Making these medications available to all obese Americans at their current price could eventually cost over $1 trillion per year

According to the study conducted by BHI, most GLP-1 prescriptions came from primary care providers, but patients who received their prescriptions from an endocrinologist or obesity medicine specialist were more likely to stick with the treatment. Those who saw their doctor more often, regardless of provider specialty, were also more likely to continue with the treatment—emphasizing the need for greater care management.  

BHI data indicates that patients facing the greatest socioeconomic barriers to health care, such as cost, transportation and language barriers were less likely to continue treatment, as were adults under age 35. But patients with coexisting conditions like peripheral vascular disease and diabetes—and particularly those with three or more such conditions—were more likely to continue. 

This large-scale study of commercial health plan data examined national pharmacy and medical claims data for treatment persistence patterns in the use of GLP-1s for weight management by members of Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans that covered these treatments.  

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 35 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.