GLP-1 medications: A new approach to weight loss management

Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern in the UK, with over 4 million people living with the condition. It is a chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to process glucose, leading to high blood glucose levels. Managing type 2 diabetes requires a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. GLP-1 medications are a class of drugs that have emerged as an effective option for managing type 2 diabetes.

These medications have been gaining popularity in recent years for their ability to promote weight loss, particularly in patients living with obesity with or without type 2 diabetes. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of GLP-1 medications for weight loss, including how they work, who can benefit from them, and their potential benefits and risks.

Doctor with a phone

What are GLP-1 medications?

GLP-1 medications are a class of medications that mimic the effects of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 is produced naturally in the body and helps to regulate blood sugar levels by encouraging the body to produce insulin at mealtimes and increasing feelings of fullness. By reducing appetite and increasing fullness, GLP-1 medications can also help people consume fewer calories and promote weight loss.

Currently, there are several GLP-1 medications approved for use in the UK, including exenatide, liraglutide, and semaglutide. These medications are available in both injectable and tablet forms, with the injectable forms generally being more effective for weight loss.

How effective are GLP-1 medications for weight loss?

Clinical trials have shown that GLP-1 medications can be highly effective for promoting weight loss. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that patients treated with semaglutide, a once-weekly GLP-1 medication, lost an average of 15% of their initial body weight over 68 weeks of treatment. Other GLP-1 medications have also been shown to promote weight loss of up to 10% or more.

How effective are GLP-1 medications for Type 2 diabetes management?

GLP-1 medications have been shown to be highly effective in managing type 2 diabetes. They can reduce blood glucose levels, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, and promote weight loss. In clinical trials, GLP-1 medications have been shown to lower HbA1c levels (a measure of average blood glucose levels over time) by up to 1.5%. They have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease.

Compared to other diabetes medications, GLP-1 medications have several advantages. They do not cause hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), which can be a serious side effect of other diabetes medications. GLP-1 medications also promote weight loss, which is important for managing type 2 diabetes, as obesity is a risk factor for the condition.

Who can benefit from GLP-1 medications for weight loss?

GLP-1 medications are most commonly used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, but they can also be effective for weight loss in patients without diabetes. Specifically, GLP-1 medications may be recommended for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or a BMI of 27 or higher with at least one weight-related comorbidity, such as high blood pressure or sleep apnea.

In addition, GLP-1 medications may be particularly effective for patients who have not achieved weight loss with other methods, such as diet and exercise or other weight loss medications. GLP-1 medications have been shown to promote weight loss of up to 10% of initial body weight, which can have significant health benefits for patients with obesity and related health conditions.

What are the potential side effects of GLP-1 medications?

Like all medications, GLP-1 medications can cause side effects. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and constipation. These side effects are usually mild and tend to improve over time.

Less common side effects of GLP-1 medications include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and allergic reactions. Pancreatitis is a serious side effect that can be life-threatening, and patients should be advised to seek medical help if they experience severe abdominal pain.

How to take GLP-1 medications

Dosage instructions for GLP-1 medications

The dosage instructions for GLP-1 medications vary depending on the specific drug and the patient’s individual needs. Healthcare professionals should follow the prescribing information for each drug and adjust the dose as necessary based on the patient’s blood glucose levels.

How to inject GLP-1 medications

GLP-1 medications can be injected using an injector pen. Patients should be instructed on the proper injection technique and advised to rotate injection sites to prevent injection site reactions. Some GLP-1 medications, such as semaglutide, come in a once-weekly injection, which can improve convenience for patients.

What do GLP-1s mean for the NHS?

GLP-1 drugs’ efficacy in weight management make them a valuable addition to the NHS’ efforts to tackle obesity in England. Obesity is a major risk factor for a range of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. GLP-1 drugs not only promote weight loss, but also have additional benefits that may help prevent or manage these conditions.

Aside from weight loss, GLP-1 drugs also have other health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure, improving lipid profile, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. They are generally well-tolerated, and their side effects are usually mild, such as nausea. Moreover, they are relatively easy to administer, as they come in injectable or oral forms, either once daily or weekly. Overall, GLP-1 drugs can be a valuable tool for the NHS to help individuals with obesity and overweight achieve their weight loss goals, improve their overall health, and reduce the burden of obesity-related diseases.

Are there any risks to the NHS?

Advances in weight loss medication means it is now essential for the NHS to carefully manage a growing demand for these drugs and prioritise patient health outcomes. While GLP-1s can very effectively aid in weight loss, it is important to consider both the potential benefits and risks of these drugs.

Cost is one of the primary concerns with GLP-1s, as they can be more expensive than other weight loss medications. Additionally, some patients may experience side effects or have difficulty tolerating the medication. Another consideration is the potential negative effects on muscle mass, which may be particularly concerning for older patients or those with other health conditions.

Finally, there is the risk of weight regain upon stopping therapy, which highlights the need for ongoing support and lifestyle changes to maintain weight loss. Despite these potential risks, GLP-1s can be a valuable tool for patients struggling with obesity and related conditions, and careful management and prioritisation can help ensure that they are used appropriately and effectively within the NHS.

While new treatments are rightly generating interest and optimism, as ever there is a need to ensure that resources are used as effectively and fairly as possible – that the right support is given to the right person at the right time. At present, there is an inconsistency in services available and limited data to support commissioners in making decisions. And where services have been commissioned it can be difficult for commissioners to assess the true return on investment.

What’s Oviva’s approach?

Oviva evaluates patients’ clinical suitability for pharmacotherapy weight loss, and discusses its benefits and drawbacks to ensure patient commitment and optimised outcomes.
The Oviva team also monitors patient outcomes and discontinues medication to prevent wastage if it does not produce the expected results or causes side effects.

Patients are supported by a weight management specialist dietitian to implement a personalised nutritional approach from the outset of the programme. This will help to optimise weight loss outcomes on GLP-1 medications, as well as put strategies in place to minimise weight regain at the end of the treatment. Psychological support is also available to those who need it to facilitate meaningful behaviour changes.


GLP-1 medications have emerged as a promising option for managing type 2 diabetes in the UK. They offer several advantages over other diabetes medications, including a lower risk of hypoglycemia and weight loss benefits. Healthcare professionals should consider GLP-1 medications as a treatment option for patients who have not achieved adequate blood glucose control with other medications or where weight loss is a priority. By incorporating GLP-1 medications into diabetes management plans, healthcare professionals can help patients achieve better outcomes and improve their quality of life.

GLP-1 medications have the potential to be a valuable tool for weight management in the NHS, but their use should be carefully considered and monitored in collaboration with a healthcare professional. With this approach, we can ensure that people with obesity and overweight have access to the best possible treatments to improve their health and well-being in the long term.

Final thoughts 

These highly efficacious medications are driving considerable interest among the medical community and the general population, leading to increased demand for Tier 3 weight management services. There is a need to meet the challenge of providing these services, including prescriptions and medicines management, as well as a need to incorporate behaviour change therapy and nutrition counselling to prevent weight regain.

By helping people achieve weight loss and improving their metabolic health, GLP-1 drugs can therefore play an important role in reducing the burden of obesity-related diseases on the NHS. However, it is important to note that GLP-1 drugs should be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, to achieve the best patient outcomes.