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Weight Loss Medication vs. Weight Loss Surgery

Overweight woman looking at laptop in her kitchen

Aug. 8 2023

by S. Gray Hughes, MD, FACS, South Carolina Obesity Surgery Center

Many new weight loss medications have recently become available. Ozempic® and Mounjaro® are two medications approved for Type II diabetes that have the added benefit of causing weight loss. Wegovy® contains the same active ingredient (semaglutide) as Ozempic but is explicitly marketed for weight loss. Compared to older weight loss medications, these new medications have shown success and have gained popularity. 

Ozempic® is a GLP-1 receptor agonist that inhibits gastric emptying and food intake. Mounjaro® activates GIP and GLP-1 receptors. Ozempic® has proven effective, with one study showing 15% weight loss at 16 months, translating to about a 34-pound weight loss for the average person. Participants who did not take Ozempic lost about 6 pounds in the same study.

One of the main limitations of these newer medications is the high cost. GoodRx lists Ozempic® at $940 per carton, and Wegovy® can run up to $1000 per dose. Though price varies based on one’s insurance, the long-term cost can be consequential. In addition, numerous studies show that people taking weight loss medications tend to regain most of their weight once they stop.

With the CDC estimating that approximately 42% of Americans are obese (BMI 30 or greater), we must utilize all the available tools. Obesity is a chronic disease that short-term remedies cannot address. The foundation of any long-term weight loss program is lifestyle modifications, including eating good nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Dieting can lead to short-term weight loss but is rarely successful long-term.

The next step for those needing additional help with weight loss after lifestyle modifications is some combination of weight loss medication or weight loss surgery. In the U.S., both treatment options need to be more utilized. Only about 2% of people who would benefit from weight loss medications take them, and only about 1% of eligible patients undergo weight loss surgery. Bariatric surgery results in a 60-70% excess weight loss in one year. Weight loss surgery is safe and results in reliable, lasting weight loss. 

At the South Carolina Obesity Surgery Center, we believe surgery is the most effective tool to help our patients achieve the sustained weight loss they need. Surgery, in addition to lifestyle change and lifelong support, has led to many success stories.

Weight loss medications can play a role; occasionally, we utilize them for patients wanting to lose additional weight after surgery. Also, some patients with weight regain may benefit from weight loss medications. With the current obesity epidemic, we must utilize all available tools to help our patients achieve lasting weight loss.

portrait of Dr. Hughes by stairs
S. Gray Hughes, MD, FACSSouth Carolina Obesity Surgery Center

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Disclaimer: This blog is intended for general understanding and education about Lexington Medical Center. Nothing on the blog should be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Blog visitors with personal health or medical questions should consult their health care provider.