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Can I get a weight loss prescription online?

Written on December 23, 2022 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Table of contents


What does weight mean?

Your weight, or how much you weigh, is almost always taken as a vital sign when you visit your healthcare provider. But have you taken the time to think about what exactly your “weight” means?

In physics, weight is gravity’s force on your body [1]. We all have been taught in high school physics that one of Newton’s equations is Force = mass x acceleration (F=ma). Essentially force represents your weight and is equal to your body or mass, multiplied by the acceleration or the gravitational pull. That’s a fancy scientific way of describing what weight means.

The word “weight,” in its most straightforward meaning, is the amount you weigh expressed in units [1]. In mainstream America, we usually use pounds (lbs) to represent weight, but in different countries, other forms of measurement can be used to express weight, such as kilograms (kg). In the medical field, kg is often used as well.

Weight and obesity

Speaking with your healthcare provider about your weight can be a sensitive but necessary topic. If your weight is on the heavier side, your healthcare provider may have used the term “obesity” with you. When your weight is higher than what is considered healthy for a given height, you can be described as being overweight or obese [2]. If your body mass index or BMI is 30 or greater, you fall within the obesity range [2]. Obesity can be divided into three categories or classes [2]:

  • Class 1: BMI of 30 to <35
  • Class 2: BMI of 35 to <40
  • Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher (often considered severe obesity)

Being obese or having obesity can be concerning. Obesity contributes to various health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, and certain cancers [3]. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of adult obesity in the United States was approximately 41.9% from 2017 to 2020 [4]. It is a serious health concern since almost half the United States adult population is obese. In addition to the health risk, obesity-related medical costs in the United States are nearly $173 billion [4].

Ways to lose weight

Losing weight can be very challenging because many factors affect your ability to lose weight. Factors such as genetics, health, and lifestyle can make it all that much harder to lose weight. However, you can consider weight loss options, such as weight loss programs, diet modifications, surgery, and medications. These weight loss options have their unique benefits and challenges.

Weight loss programs can be an attractive option. In a recent weight loss program study, researchers looked at the most popular weight loss programs among adults in the United States [5]. After participants underwent a 12-month weight loss program with Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, or SlimFast, the participants achieved weight loss ranging from 2.6% to 4.9%. The monthly cost of these weight loss programs can vary from $10 to $1,000. These weight loss programs include low-calorie foods, physical activity, behavioral modifications, and community group support.

Many dietary strategies focus on food modification, such as the low glycemic, Mediterranean, or paleo diet [6,7]. A low glycemic diet plan focuses on an eating plan based on how foods affect your body’s blood glucose levels. A low glycemic diet can include green peas, leafy greens, fresh fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish. A paleo diet focuses on food choices that prehistoric ancestors ate, such as meats, fish, and vegetables, and promotes avoiding dairy products and grains. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats. Foods usually include a blend of healthy whole grains, nuts, fish, leafy greens, and plenty of olive oil as the primary source of healthy fat. These diet modification strategies can help with weight loss, but maintaining weight loss over time can remain challenging [6,7].

Of all the weight loss options you can elect, weight loss surgery is the most invasive choice but can be highly effective in reducing body weight. Before considering weight loss surgery, you should consult your healthcare provider to determine if weight loss surgery is a good fit for you. In the United States, three weight loss surgeries are often performed: gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and gastric band [8]. These weight loss surgeries allow you to lose weight but have their own risk associated with surgery and follow-up visits.

If weight loss management with dieting and exercise prove challenging, prescription weight loss medications can reduce body weight significantly, from 3% to 12% over a short period [9,10]. Your primary care provider can evaluate if you meet the clinical requirement for prescription weight loss medication [9].

Prescription weight loss medications as an option

Prescription medications are drugs that a healthcare provider prescribes for you, and you cannot purchase them off the shelf like an over-the-counter medication or nonprescription drug [10]. An option to help you lose weight is the use of weight loss medications in combination with diet and exercise. Based on your weight, medical history, and other chronic conditions, your provider may prescribe a drug to help you lose weight if they deem it appropriate. They will consider the potential benefits of your weight loss, the medication’s possible side effects, other medications you are taking, and the cost of the weight loss medicine [9].

Your healthcare provider may prescribe a weight loss medication for you if you have not been able to lose weight with diet and exercise, and you have a [10]:

  • BMI >30 and are living with obesity
  • BMI >27 and have medical conditions linked to obesity, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

Weight loss medications can help you lose 3% to 12% more of your body weight than if you lost weight with diet and exercise alone [9,10]. Even a weight loss of 5% to 10% can lead to health benefits [10,11].

Taking medications, in general, is not without risks. Weight loss medications have their side effects, which include nausea, constipation, and diarrhea, all of which can lessen over time with use [10]. Other adverse reactions are drug mouth, insomnia, oily stools, and constipation [12]. However, these weight loss drugs will rarely cause serious side effects [10].

Types of weight loss medications

Weight loss medications can work by suppressing your appetite, increasing your metabolism, slowing down your stomach emptying, or decreasing your absorption of food [10,12]. Depending on the weight loss medication, it can be used short-term or long-term and be taken by mouth or administered as an injection [12]. Phentermine (Adipex-P, Ionamin) and diethylpropion (Tenuate) are two drugs that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for short-term use as an anti-obesity drug [12].

Currently, there are six FDA-approved long-term use weight loss medications [10,12].

  • Bupropion-naltrexone (Contrave)
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
  • Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)
  • Semaglutide (Wegovy)
  • Setmelanotide (Imcivree)

Getting a weight loss prescription online

With the expansion of telemedicine and telehealth, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting care is more accessible [13,14]. You can schedule a virtual visit with a healthcare provider, send and receive messages, and interact remotely. Obesity is a chronic health condition that can be treated and managed partly with telehealth [15]. You can also get prescriptions for medications through telehealth [13].

Prescription medications can be prescribed for weight loss in addition to lifestyle changes, support, and coaching. To get a weight loss prescription online or through a telehealth service, you must first meet virtually and consult a licensed healthcare provider. The healthcare provider must deem anti-obesity therapy appropriate before issuing you a prescription order.

Depending on whether the weight loss drug is considered a controlled substance, additional conditions may need to be met before a provider can issue you a prescription [14]. Additionally, each state has different regulations when it comes to telehealth and prescribing [14]. Your telehealth provider will need to follow the appropriate laws and regulations regarding getting a weight loss prescription online through a telehealth service.

Other benefits of telehealth for obesity

There are many benefits to using a telehealth service to help you with your obesity and weight loss goals [15,16]. You can initiate your obesity management and treatment from the comfort of your home. In addition to the option of being prescribed an appropriate weight loss medication by a licensed healthcare provider, telehealth for obesity may include [15]:

  • Remote patient monitoring using a digital scale that sends automated results
  • Counseling with a registered dietician
  • At-home exercise plans
  • Mental health counseling and online support groups
  • Secure messaging to share food or exercise diaries and progress updates

Everlywell and telehealth

Everlywell offers telehealth through Virtual Care Visits, which connects you with a qualified healthcare provider based on your availability from the comfort of your home over a remote video call.

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References

  1. Weight definition & meaning. Dictionary.com. URL. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  2. Defining adult overweight & obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published June 3, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  3. Pi-Sunyer FX. The obesity epidemic: pathophysiology and consequences of obesity. Obes Res. 2002 Dec;10 Suppl 2:97S-104S. doi: 10.1038/oby.2002.202. URL.
  4. Adult obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published May 17, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  5. Gudzune KA, Doshi RS, Mehta AK, et al. Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: an updated systematic review [published correction appears in Ann Intern Med. 2015 May 19;162(10):739-40]. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(7):501-512. doi:10.7326/M14-2238. URL.
  6. Yannakoulia M, Poulimeneas D, Mamalaki E, Anastasiou CA. Dietary modifications for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Metabolism. 2019;92:153-162. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2019.01.001. URL.
  7. Healthy eating for a healthy weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published June 3, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  8. Types of weight-loss surgery. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  9. Prescription medications to treat overweight & obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  10. Pros and cons of weight-loss drugs. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published October 29, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  11. Fruh SM. Obesity: Risk factors, complications, and strategies for sustainable long-term weight management. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2017;29(S1):S3-S14. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12510. URL.
  12. Jeong D, Priefer R. Anti-obesity weight loss medications: Short-term and long-term use. Life Sci. 2022;306:120825. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2022.120825. URL.
  13. What is telehealth? Telehealth.HHS.gov. URL. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  14. Gabriela Weigel AR. Opportunities and barriers for telemedicine in the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency and beyond. Kaiser Family Foundation. URL. Published March 17, 2021. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  15. Getting started: Chronic Health Conditions and Telehealth. Telehealth.HHS.gov. URL. Accessed December 21, 2022.
  16. Kahan S, Look M, Fitch A. The benefit of telemedicine in obesity care. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2022;30(3):577-586. doi: 10.1002/oby.23382. URL.
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