There's a reason why you've probably been seeing headlines about the “obesity epidemic.” The prevalence of obesity in the United States has increased dramatically over the last twenty years, going from 30.5 percent of the population to nearly 42 percent.

Losing weight is never easy, but when a person is seriously overweight or obese — having a body mass index of 30 or more — it becomes a serious health concern, making weight-loss both more difficult and more urgent.

Relying on diet and exercise alone may not be enough, though they remain key to any weight-loss strategy. Some find that they are unable to reach and maintain a healthier weight in the long-term with diet and exercise alone. Luckily, there are now some medical options that can help people achieve their weight-loss goals.

In addition to weight-loss surgery, pharmacological treatments for overweight and obesity — weight-loss drugs — can help dieters attain a healthier weight and reduce their risk of obesity-related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and joint problems.

To support doctors as they make decisions to help their patients lose weight, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) recently convened a panel of experts that has released a set of guidelines which outline, in addition to lifestyle changes, the medications currently available to help the body shed weight.

“Using medications as an option to assist with weight loss can improve weight-related complications like joint pain, diabetes, fatty liver and hypertension.”

“There have been changes in obesity treatment in recent years,” one of the authors of the gudelines, Perica Davitkov, a gastroenterologist affiliated with the Department of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, said. “This guideline is the first since diabetes drugs were approved for obesity treatment and provides clear information for doctors and their adult patients who struggle to lose weight or keep it off with lifestyle changes alone.”

In addition to lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, the AGA guidelines strongly recommend that patients with obesity consider using a medication designed to help promote weight loss.

The multidisciplinary panel synthesized the evidence available on eight pharmacological treatments for overweight and obesity and developed recommendations for their use in clinical practice.

The panel recommended four medications which, when combined with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, result in moderate weight loss. The percentage of body weight lost was reported as the difference in weight-loss between those taking a given medication and that of a placebo group not taking any medication.

Here are the results for the four most effective medications:

  • Semaglutide (Wegovy®): 10.8 percent weight loss
  • Phentermine-topiramate ER (Qsymia®): 8.5 percent weight loss
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda®): 4.8 percent weight loss
  • Naltrexone-Bupropion ER (Contrave®): 3.0 percent weight loss
“Obesity is a disease that often does not respond to lifestyle interventions alone in the long-term,” author Eduardo Grunvald, of the University of California San Diego, said in a statement. “These medications treat a biological disease, not a lifestyle problem. Using medications as an option to assist with weight loss can improve weight-related complications like joint pain, diabetes, fatty liver and hypertension.”

The AGA Clinical Practice Guideline on Pharmacological Interventions for Adults with Obesity is published in Gastroenterology.