As Americans struggle with weight, more doctors turn to weight loss drugs

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Saturday, January 21, 2023
As many struggle with weight, more doctors turn to weight loss drugs
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Experts say nearly three quarters of Americans are struggling with their weight and many people are now using a medication originally intended to help with another issue. Lately, it's been gaining more widespread acceptance.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Experts say nearly three quarters of Americans are struggling with their weight and many people are now using a medication originally intended to help with another issue. Lately, it's been gaining more widespread acceptance.

For 36-year-old Susan Corona, her determination to lose weight had her hitting the gym five days a week and eating well. However, the weight always came back.

"I did lose about 50 pounds, but then I gained five back, and another five back," she said.

Corona was diagnosed with the hormonal disorder polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. Obesity experts say it's one of the many underlying conditions plaguing 70% of Americans who are overweight or obese.

"Like insulin resistance, PCOS, family history of diabetes, thyroid, or other hormonal imbalances, that makes it almost impossible for them to lose this weight," said Dr. Thais Aliabadi, who is an OB-GYN who also specializes in medical weight loss.

For nearly 10 years, she's been prescribing a class of drugs called semaglutides to help her patients lose weight. They were originally approved to treat Type 2 diabetes. Corona lost 25 pounds in less than three months.

"It's been life changing for me and it's been the best decision," she said.

"If your BMI is 30 or more or if you have a BMI of 27 plus an underlying condition, then you qualify for these medications," Aliabadi said.

Semaglutides increase your body's ability to produce insulin and decrease glucagon. The result is reduced hunger and increased energy levels. The most well-known of these semaglutides is widely talked about on social media and in the press - popularity is driving up demand.

Dr. Lydia Alexander, the president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association, said while these medicines are gaining far more acceptance for weight loss, the data for prescribing it to someone with a close-to-ideal BMI is unknown.

The most common side effect is nausea and vomiting.

"We don't know what the risks and benefits are for that person beyond the cosmetic effects and there is a shortage of the medication because a lot of people, 70% of the country, have a weight issue," Alexander said.

Without insurance, these drugs can cost anywhere from $900 to $1,500 per month. While taking semaglutide medication may help you lose weight while you are on the drug, studies show most people will regain much of that weight if they discontinue using it.

"So I use semaglutides just to drop their weight and get them to their dream weight, and then I teach them how to maintain it," said Aliabadi.

That's exactly the plan Cordero is shooting for.

"I'm very encouraged and very optimistic about my future, you know, and very thankful," she said.