July 25, 2024

This article is part of Verywell Health’s 2024 survey on obesity care. Read the full analysis of the key findings here.

Key Takeaways

  • In a Verywell survey, 67% of respondents who are taking obesity medications said they plan to stop within the next year.
  • Patients who take obesity drugs like Wegovy and Zepbound will regain weight if they stop taking the drugs, which are meant for long-term use.
  • Barriers ranging from insurance coverage to a general dislike of medications can influence someone’s decision to discontinuing use these drugs.

Kristi Hedrick, 29, was forced to stop taking Ozempic when her insurance coverage changed.

In 2021, before Ozempic was made popular by celebrities and influencers, Hedrick used it to manage a hormonal condition affecting her insulin resistance.

“I was on it for about a year and had a lovely change in insurance. And then my insurance was like, ‘Well, you don’t have diabetes, so you don’t need to be on this medication.’ So, there was a good chunk of time where I really didn’t have a choice but to go off the medication,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick isn’t alone in deciding, with or without a choice, to stop taking a GLP-1 drug like Ozempic. According to a Verywell Health survey, 67% of the respondents who are taking weight management drugs plan to stop using them within the next 12 months.

After Hedrick stopped taking Ozempic, she regained her weight quickly.

GLP-1 drugs are only effective if used consistently on a long-term basis. In one clinical trial, people who stopped taking semaglutide (sold as Ozempic or Wegovy) regained 12% of their body weight over a year. The rebound in people who took tirzepatide (sold as Mounjaro or Zepbound) was even more dramatic: A study showed that those who paused this medication regained 15% of their weight in just four months.

Mir Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center, said it’s common for patients to stop using the drugs due to a lack of insurance coverage. In some cases, when patients do have access to these medications, they’re more motivated to stay on the drugs, he added.

“Many of the patients that we see are not able to get this medication covered by insurance,” Ali said. “And [if] they’re investing their time and resources into this, they definitely want to adhere to it.”

Why Patients Don’t Want to Keep Using GLP-1 Drugs

Dina Peralta-Reich, MD, an obesity medicine specialist at New York Weight Wellness Medicine, said many patients ask when they can reduce their dosage or stop entirely. She said this may have stemmed from a multitude of factors, including the perception that these drugs are quick fixes.

“They don’t want to be on medication forever, right?” Peralta-Reich told Verywell. “We have the idea that it’s a medication, but it’s going to treat [obesity], and after I treat it, I want to be off it.”

The survey respondents also don’t perceive weight management medications to be safe. Among the 2,016 respondents, only 36% said medication is a safe way to lose weight.


While the FDA updated the safety label of Ozempic to include intestinal blocking risks, serious side effects have been rare. Out of a total of 20,587 reported cases of any adverse reaction from Ozempic, only 99 cases of intestinal obstruction and 209 cases of stomach paralysis have been reported, according to the FDA’s surveillance system.

More commonly, Ali said that people stop taking these medications because they’re not motivated.

“What studies have shown is that if the patient stops these medications, they have a high likelihood of regaining weight. So, our goal with any intervention, whether it be counseling, medication, surgery, is to provide tools to help the patient change to a healthier lifestyle,” Ali said.

Medication Is Only Part of the Intervention

Peralta-Reich said patients who want to lose weight should focus on overall health management. In randomized clinical trials, medications such as semaglutide or tirzepatide were used in combination with diet and exercise for optimal results.

“The first thing I tell my patients is, ‘Well, if that’s what we’re trying to do, you have to keep in mind that there’s a part that you have to do too. Because there is no way that you’re going to be able to maintain your weight loss if you did not have significant changes in your lifestyle modifications,’” she said.

Hedrick said she has been able to get a compounded version of semaglutide, but is now paying more attention to information on the potential side effects of the drug. She also has to pay out of pocket.

“I have plans to stay on it just because I need to. So, I’m continually having these conversations with my doctor when I do the follow-ups: ‘Okay, haven’t had any new symptoms, what are some that I should look out for?” Hedrick said. “As long as I’m staying on top of that, and I’m not having any of the scary symptoms of these potential side effects, I think I will be staying on it as long as I can.”

What This Means For You

Obesity medications such as Wegovy and Zepbound are meant for long-term use. Studies have shown that people who pause these medications regain their weight in a few months to a year.

Methodology

Verywell Health surveyed 2,016 adults living in the U.S. from January 29 to February 7, 2024. The survey was fielded online via a self-administered questionnaire to an opt-in panel of respondents from a market research vendor. In order to qualify, respondents must have identified themselves as any of the following: overweight, obese, fat, person of size, or larger-bodied. Quotas were implemented in sampling using benchmarks from American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau for region, age, race/ethnicity, and household income. Special thanks to Daphna Harel, PhD, for consultation in survey development and analysis.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wilding JPH, Batterham RL, Davies M, et al. Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: the STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2022;24(8):1553-1564. doi:10.1111/dom.14725

  2. Aronne LJ, Sattar N, Horn DB, et al. Continued treatment with tirzepatide for maintenance of weight reduction in adults with obesity: the SURMOUNT-4 randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2024;331(1):38–48. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.24945

  3. Sodhi M, Rezaeianzadeh R, Kezouh A, Etminan M. Risk of gastrointestinal adverse events associated with glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists for weight loss. JAMA. 2023;330(18):1795–1797. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.19574

  4. Sandsdal RM, Juhl CR, Jensen SBK, et al. Combination of exercise and GLP-1 receptor agonist treatment reduces severity of metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity, and inflammation: a randomized controlled trial. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2023;22(1):41. doi:10.1186/s12933-023-01765-z

John Loeppky, writer

By John Loeppky

John Loeppky is a freelance journalist based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, who has written about disability and health for outlets of all kinds.

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