Americans' opinions on semaglutide and other weight loss approaches

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
April 06, 2023, 8:20 PM GMT+0

A recent YouGov poll explores Americans' opinions on semaglutide, an antidiabetic and weight loss drug sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus that has made headlines in recent weeks. Semaglutide can cause people to lose weight by suppressing their appetite and by slowing the rate at which food empties out of the stomach. It has been shown to be highly effective, though some users report side effects including nausea and vomiting.

The poll reveals that around 60% of Americans have heard a lot or a little about this group of weight loss drugs, and 22% know someone who has taken one for weight loss purposes. In addition, the poll examines the perceived effectiveness and safety of these drugs, the level of interest in using them, opinions on insurance coverage, and preferred approaches to weight loss.

Semaglutide drugs: effectiveness, safety, and regulation

People who are familiar with semaglutide generally view it as effective, but are divided when it comes to its safety. According to the poll, 53% of Americans who've heard something about this class of weight loss drugs believe it is very or somewhat effective at helping people lose weight, while only 17% think they are not very or not at all effective. Views on the weight loss drugs' safety are less positive: 36% of people who've heard of them say they're very or somewhat safe and 39% say they're very or somewhat unsafe.

Half of Americans would like to see increased government regulation of weight loss drugs in the same category as Ozempic. A majority believe that prescriptions for these drugs should be provided only after an in-person consultation with a health care provider, as opposed to via telehealth.

Of people who haven't personally taken these drugs for weight loss, 28% express interest in doing so after being provided with a brief description of them. This figure rises to 44% among people who identify as obese. Additionally, 11% of people who describe their current body weight as "obese" report having already taken one of these drugs for weight loss, compared to 3% of people who don't and 5% of Americans overall.

Semaglutide drugs Ozempic and Wegovy cost around $1,000 per month or more and are not covered for weight loss by most insurance plans. Majorities of Americans disagree with this: 57% think that prescription weight loss drugs should be covered by private insurance, and the same proportion say the same about Medicaid coverage.

However, opinions on the overall societal impact of semaglutide drugs are more varied, with 34% considering them as neither good nor bad for society, 23% seeing them as bad, and 21% viewing them as good.

Other approaches to weight loss

Most people believe that primary methods for weight loss should include dietary changes (65%) and increased physical activity (57%). While 23% advocate for behavioral therapy as a primary method, fewer than 10% think that each of weight loss drugs or surgery should be a first line of treatment. More people consider these options as supplementary methods or — particularly in the case of surgery — a last resort or something not to be used at all.

A majority of Americans have tried at least one method to lose weight, with 52% making dietary changes and 50% increasing physical activity. Around one in 10 Americans say they've tried prescription weight loss drugs, including 33% of obese Americans and 21% of overweight Americans.

While many Americans say they've tried to diet in an attempt to lose weight, there is a general sense of low expectations about the effectiveness of dieting. Three in four (74%) believe they're either usually unsuccessful or result in only temporary weight loss.

Childhood obesity guidelines

The American Pediatric Association's recent decision to include weight loss drugs and surgery among treatments for children with obesity is met with mixed reactions among Americans. Half (50%) disagree with the use of weight loss drugs for children, and even more (62%) oppose the revised guidelines regarding weight loss surgery for children. Younger American adults are less opposed than older ones.

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on March 22 - 27, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (adragan)

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