Weight Loss

Ozempic prescriptions for weight management have skyrocketed since 2019

The diabetes drug is becoming increasingly popular in weight loss circles.
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Amelia Kinsinger

5 min read

Move over, Botox. There’s a new injectable drug that’s taking the US—and social media—by storm. Ozempic, a medication developed to treat Type 2 diabetes, has garnered a cult following among celebrities and doctors, who tout its effectiveness as a weight management tool.

It’s not alone: Other GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist) medications, like Wegovy, Rybelsus, and Mounjaro, have also surged in popularity since Ozempic first entered the market in 2017.

In 2022, more than 5 million prescriptions were issued for Wegovy—which the FDA approved in 2021 for adults with obesity—and other GLP-1s for weight management, compared to 230,000 prescriptions in 2019, according to data from New York City-based health tech company Komodo Health.

That’s an increase of more than 2,000% over the four-year period, including a 259% spike from 2021 to 2022. And demand for GLP-1s for weight management is not expected to end anytime soon.

“There’s no reason to think that the utilization wouldn’t continue to increase. If anything, we’re seeing more comfort with the medication as people start to use it more and more,” Usha Periyanayagam, Komodo’s head of research and analytics, told Healthcare Brew.

By the numbers

About a quarter of the prescriptions written for GLP-1s in 2022 were for patients who do not have diabetes, suggesting widespread “off-label”—or unapproved—use of the medications for weight management, according to Komodo. Among those patients, women were three times more likely than men to receive prescriptions.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the US adults (47%) surveyed by medical practice management company Tebra said they know someone who’s used Ozempic for weight loss, while 15% used it themselves.

More than a fifth (22%) of respondents said they’ve asked their doctor for an Ozempic prescription for weight management, Tebra found. They cited a doctor’s recommendation (41%), recommendations from family and/or friends (27%), and social media (24%) as the top factors influencing those requests. Just 9% of respondents said they asked for a prescription due to a celebrity endorsement.

But 76% of medical practitioners surveyed by Tebra raised concerns that celebrity endorsements of Ozempic for weight loss could result in medication misuse, while 59% cautioned that it could make it difficult for people with diabetes to obtain the drug. More than half (54%) of medical practitioners said weight-loss-related prescriptions could lead to medication shortages.

Babak Azzizadeh, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon and director of the Beverly Hills-based Center for Advanced Facial Plastic Surgery, told Healthcare Brew that while social media and celebrities have helped drugs like Ozempic go viral, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He pointed to a Tebra analysis of 2023 Google trends data that showed people living in Louisiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia searched for Ozempic more than residents in other states.

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“Ten years ago it would have kind of one of those secrets in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Upper East Side,” Azizzadeh said. “Now people in areas that may not have known about it know about it, so maybe they can ask their doctors, ‘Hey, is this something that I should look at?’”

Prescribing practices

More than four in 10 medical practitioners surveyed by Tebra said they’ve had a nondiabetic patient ask for Ozempic, and 36% said they’ve faced backlash for refusing to prescribe it. Nurse practitioners and family practice physicians were the top prescribers of GLP-1s from 2019 to 2022, according to Komodo data.

Azizzadeh, a board member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, said GLP-1s will be a “game changer in health and wellness.” But doctors who prescribe them “have to be judicious, have to understand who their patients are, and make sure that they’re the correct candidate for it,” he argued.

Omada Health CMO Carolyn Bradner Jasik agreed that providers need to ensure that prescriptions for GLP-1s—which have faced shortages due to their growing off-label popularity—go to patients who need them most.

“If someone has an abrupt discontinuation due to supply issues, that can be really impactful to their diabetes, but also side effect profiles,” she told Healthcare Brew.

Jasik cautioned that the high price tag for GLP-1s could hurt patient access and exacerbate health inequities.

Tebra found that 70% of US adults said they could not afford Ozempic—which can cost hundreds of dollars per month and may not be covered by insurance—for weight loss.

“There are people who will really benefit from this medication—and it is a wonderful option for people with diabetes; it is a wonderful option for people with high [body mass indexes] where it’s a good choice for weight loss,” Jasik said. “We have to make the medication accessible for those individuals, and payers and employers are struggling.”


Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.