Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Selling Obesity Drugs to Americans Shouldn't Be This Hard

Selling Obesity Drugs to Americans Shouldn't Be This Hard
Illustration by Braulio Amado

The 79 million obese adults in the U.S. should be a marketing dream for the makers of anti-obesity drugs, and now Contrave, the latest treatment to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration, will try to win over a population in which more than 1 in 3 adults are obese. Yet sales have been weak for the prescription drugs already available, Qsymia and Belviq, both approved in 2012. Why has it been so difficult to pitch pharmaceutical weight loss to an overweight nation?

Much of the resistance to the weight-loss medications stems from the disastrous safety record of diet drugs pulled from the market in the 1990s. And, perhaps more important, a large number of health insurance plans won’t pay for the drugs, which often lead to only modest weight loss. In clinical trials, for example, nondiabetic patients taking Contrave lost only 4.1 percent more weight than those taking placebos.