The study found that some longstanding advice is valid: Prescription weight-loss drugs work best when used along with — and not in place of — lifestyle changes.
Saxenda (liraglutide) is a prescription drug approved in the United States for spurring and maintaining weight loss when added to calorie-cutting and exercise.
But whether the drug plus exercise is any better than the drug alone — or exercise alone — has not been rigorously tested.
The new trial, published May 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine, did just that. And it found that over one year, the combination won, helping people shed more pounds and, specifically, body fat.
Experts not involved in the trial said it underscores the importance of “comprehensive” tactics for keeping extra weight off.
“The standard of care with all obesity treatments — medications and surgery — is to use them as adjuncts to ongoing behavioral changes,” said Dr. Scott Kahan, a spokesperson for The Obesity Society.
Sustainable diet changes and regular exercise are key, said Kahan, who also directs the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
Weight-loss medications are useful, Kahan said, but not “magic cures.” Yet some doctors, he noted, may prescribe them without giving patients enough support on the lifestyle side of the coin.
There are several medications approved in the United States for aiding weight loss. They include Xenical (orlistat), Qsymia (phentermine-topiramate) and Contrave (naltrexone-bupropion).
Liraglutide is sold under two brand-names: Saxenda, the weight loss drug, and Victoza, for type 2 diabetes. Saxenda contains a higher dose of liraglutide and works by mimicking the action of an appetite hormone called GLP-1, according to the drug’s maker, Novo Nordisk.
The drug is taken by injection each day.
For the new trial, funded by Novo Nordisk, the researchers recruited 195 obese adults who spent eight weeks on a low-calorie diet. After that, they were randomly assigned to one of four groups: medication plus exercise; medic