Medications That Cause Weight Gain Widely Used, But Less Common for Diabetes

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Medications That Cause Weight Gain Widely Used, But Less Common for Diabetes

Use of medications that are known to contribute to weight gain is widespread in the United States, with about 20% of adults taking at least one such prescription drug, according to new research published in the journal Obesity. But, the research shows, such drugs are becoming less commonly prescribed for diabetes.

Taking a drug that leads to weight gain may not always be avoidable, but doing so may help treat one health problem while leading to other health problems down the road. Excess body weight is a risk factor for a wide range of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, kidney and liver diseases, and certain forms of cancer. Weight gain can also contribute to emotional or mental health problems, including depression, if it has a harmful effect on a person’s body image or makes them feel guilty or out of control.

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The latest study used data from 1999 to 2018 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), covering a total of 52,340 participants ages 20 and older. The researchers were interested in looking at trends in the prescribing of weight-gain-causing medications over the study period, as well as trends in participants’ body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account). They defined weight-gain-causing medications according to 2015 guidelines from the Endocrine Society.

Roughly one-fifth of study participants taking weight-gain-causing medicine

The researchers found that among participants in the 2017-2018 survey, 20.3% of adults had been taking a weight-gain-causing medication during the previous 30 days. The most common classes of weight-gain-causing drugs were beta blockers — which are used to lower blood pressure — at 9.8%, followed by diabetes drugs at 5.7%. Not all diabetes drugs qualify as weigh-gain-causing drugs, but drugs that fall in this category include insulin as well as Actos (pioglitazone), Januvia (sitagliptin), Starlix (nateglinide), and sulfonylureas such as glyburide, glipizide, and glimepiride. The most common indications for prescribing weight-gain-causing drugs included diabetes, high blood pressure, neuralgia or neuritis (nerve pain), and musculoskeletal pain or inflammation.

Between 1999 and 2018, the researchers found that the proportion of prescriptions for weight-gain-causing drugs increased for certain health conditions or indications, and decreased for others. The proportion of anticonvulsant drug prescriptions that were for weight-gain-causing drugs increased from 34.4% to 55.0%, while the proportion of prescriptions that were for weight-gain-causing drugs decreased for antidepressants (32.1% to 18.8%), diabetes drugs (82.9% to 52.5%), and beta blockers (83.9% to 80.7%). But the researchers found that changes in these proportions were not linked to participants’ BMI, except in the case of antipsychotic drugs, which were among the least commonly prescribed weight-gain-causing drugs overall. This lack of a link to BMI changes casts doubt on weight-gain-causing medications being a significant source of excess body weight among most people who take them.

The researchers wrote that changes in the proportion of prescriptions for drugs known to cause weight gain may reflect the changing availability of various drugs over time, rather than any concerted effort among doctors or patients to limit the use of weight-gain-causing drugs. They also noted that “the decision to prescribe a [non-weight-gain-causing] alternative, if one exists, is guided by weighing the risks and benefits of available treatments,” and that sometimes a weight-gain-causing drug may be the best option when all aspects of a person’s health are taken under consideration.

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Losing Weight Without Feeling Hungry: Eight Tips,” and “Seven Ways to Lose Weight.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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