Americans Are Concerned About Cost, Health Risks of Ozempic and Other Weight Loss Drugs Despite Interest

Amid the explosion of popularity for weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, consumers are both cautious about potential risks and optimistic about positive impacts on their health and behavior, health analyst Ricky Zipp writes
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Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
August 17, 2023 at 12:00 pm UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 26% of U.S. adults said they are interested in taking drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic for weight loss, on par with an April survey.

  • Despite the public’s beliefs that the drugs could have a positive impact on health and eating habits, Americans are concerned that taking GLP-1 weight loss drugs could lead to short- and long-term health risks.

  • Insurance coverage for weight loss drugs would likely increase the number of patients who will take them, but there are still lingering questions about whether insurers will cover the group of medications.

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Whether they’re going viral on social media or receiving frequent news coverage of flashy clinical trials, medications used for weight loss like Ozempic and Wegovy have stepped into the health care spotlight — and they’re poised to generate even more attention in the future.

A new Morning Consult survey found that 26% of U.S. adults are interested in trying GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy or Mounjaro to lose weight, in line with an April survey.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”

While consumer interest has remained relatively steady since spring, a lot has changed in the past few months in the space. In July, Eli Lilly released clinical trial results for an experimental weight loss drug that helped people lose about 26% of their body weight on average through extended use or major lifestyle changes, besting the 15% weight loss that trial results showed for Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and weight loss drug Wegovy.

More recently, clinical trial results showed that Novo’s Wegovy reduced the risk of serious heart problems by 20%, possibly opening the door for these medications not just to help people lose weight but also provide other medical benefits.

As the weight-loss drug craze continues, however, consumers have myriad concerns including those about high costs and health risks. The recent Morning Consult survey found that 7 in 10 adults said they are concerned about long-term side effects and 2 in 3 are worried about short-term side effects.

Majority of Americans Are Concerned About Cost, Potential Side Effects of Weight Loss Drugs

The share of U.S. adults who said whether they are concerned or unconcerned about the following potential risks associated with GLP-1 drugs for weight loss:
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Survey conducted Aug. 3-5, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,199 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Consumers’ worries are not unwarranted. There have been reports of health risks like stomach paralysis and extreme vomiting associated with long-term use. United Kingdom and European Union regulators are investigating reports about suicidal and self-harm thoughts tied to taking the drugs. The American Society of Anesthesiologists also recently issued new guidance for patients to stop taking GLP-1 drugs before surgery because of the risk that delayed stomach emptying could lead to food being regurgitated and choking patients.

Along with the fear of short- and long-term health risks, about 2 in 3 adults said they are concerned about needing to take weight loss drugs long term and mental health struggles while taking the drugs.

Consumers believe weight loss drugs can improve physical health, make people feel better about their appearance

Many people think that weight loss drugs can lead to behavior and image improvements despite their concerns about the risks of taking the medications.

Half of U.S. adults said the weight loss drugs would positively impact patients’ physical health, and 55% said they’d positively impact how users feel about their appearance. More than 2 in 5 also said the drugs could positively impact certain behaviors, such as eating less, eating healthier and exercising more.

Another 36% said the medications would have a positive impact on limiting compulsive and/or addictive behavior.

Public Says Weight Loss Drugs Will Have a Positive Impact on Health and Self Image

The share of U.S. adults who said whether GLP-1 drugs would have a positive or negative effect on the following:
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Survey conducted Aug. 3-5, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,199 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Companies are experiencing shortages of weight loss drugs amid growth in popularity

As these drugs have become more popular, there have been problems with shortages. The issue is crucial because while some patients use them for weight loss — including using drugs that were developed to treat diabetes — others need them for medical conditions. Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly have said they are experiencing shortages of their drugs in the past few months amid the explosion in demand.

Among consumers, 38% said that people should use medications like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy if they have weight-related health conditions but not solely for weight loss purposes, compared with 21% who said that people should be able to use the medications for health conditions or solely for weight loss. Another 41% said they did not know or had no opinion.

When considering shortages of GLP-1 medications, 52% of U.S. adults said that people who need the drugs for weight-related health conditions should be prioritized for prescriptions, compared with just 11% who said people who use the drugs for weight loss only should be prioritized. Meanwhile, 8% of consumers said the prescriptions should be given on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Many adults believe major insurers should provide coverage for both medical necessity and weight loss

Questions remain about coverage for these drugs as more products hit the market and indications are expanded specifically for weight loss. The medications can cost tens of thousands of dollars annually, and because of the high rate of people who are overweight or obese, there is a large potential patient population, according to a May report from the health care research group KFF.

Currently, Medicare is not authorized to cover drugs used for weight loss, but lawmakers have introduced legislation to change that. There are also questions about whether employers and private insurers will cover the medications and, if so, for what purpose.

The Morning Consult survey found that about 2 in 3 U.S. adults said every major insurer should cover weight loss drugs for weight-related health conditions, and about half said insurers should cover them solely for weight loss.

About 2 in 3 Americans Say Insurers Should Cover GLP-1 Drugs for People With Weight-Related Health Conditions

The share of U.S. adults who said whether the following insurers should cover GLP-1 drugs for weight loss or weight-related health conditions:
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted Aug. 3-5, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,199 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

While consumer demand in weight loss drugs like Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro have exploded over the last few months, people are still cautious about potential risks, such as high costs and short- and long-term health effects. However, curiosity to try the drugs may still win out, as many consumers said they believe the medications can positively impact their health and behavior like eating right and exercising.

Amid concerns over shortages, people mostly said that patients who need the medications for serious health conditions should be favored for prescriptions, rather than prioritizing people who take the drugs solely for weight loss, which could be a key issue if usage grows.

A headshot photograph of Ricky Zipp
Ricky Zipp
Health Care Analyst

Ricky Zipp previously worked at Morning Consult as a health care analyst on the Industry Intelligence team.

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