Prescription Medicine for the Treatment of Obesity

Obesity is a chronic disease that affects many people. To lose weight and maintain weight loss over the long term, it is necessary to modify one's diet and engage in regular physical activity. Some people, however, may require additional treatment. As with other chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the use of prescription medications may be appropriate for some people who are overweight or obese.Prescription weight-loss medications should be used only by patients who are at increased medical risk because of their weight. They should not be used for "cosmetic" weight loss. In addition, patients should have previously tried to lose weight through diet and physical activity.

Prescription weight-loss drugs are approved only for those with:

  • A body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above.
  • A BMI of 27 and above with an obesity-related condition, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or dyslipidemia (abnormal amounts of fat in the blood).

BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height that helps determine if your weight places your health at risk. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. A BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.

Although most side effects of prescription medications for obesity are mild, serious complications have been reported. Also, few studies have evaluated the long-term safety or effectiveness of weight-loss medications. Weight-loss medications should always be combined with a program of healthy eating and regular physical activity.

For additional information on prescription medications for obesity, click on http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/prescription.htm

Source: NIH Publication No. 07-4191
Updated December 2010

Reviewed by athealth on February 6, 2014.