This diabetes drug is quickly gaining attention for weight loss potential
If you’re living with obesity, you’ve probably already heard the same tired weight-loss advice over and over again. Cut out bread. Eat more kale. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
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The problem is that stale advice isn’t likely to move the needle. Because obesity isn’t a behavioral problem. Obesity is a chronic disease. A metabolic dysfunction that affects your body right down to the cellular level.
Of course, exercise and eating nutritious food is important. But will those steps alone help people with obesity achieve a healthy weight (and lower their risk for other chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease)? Probably not.
So, when you hear about diabetes medications like Mounjaro® and their weight loss effects, it’s natural to want to learn more.
“We’re at an exciting time in medical history,” says obesity nursing specialist Karen Schulz, MSN, CNS. “Medications are quickly becoming available that change the metabolic pathways that keep people with obesity from achieving a healthy weight. It’s a huge breakthrough that’s making a real difference in a lot of people’s health.”
What exactly is Mounjaro? And might it be your best choice for weight loss? Schulz explains.
Mounjaro (generic name tirzepatide) is an injectable medication to treat Type 2 diabetes. It’s available only by prescription.
Mounjaro works by targeting two hormones:
“At its core, Mounjaro changes how your body reacts to food,” Schulz explains. “It makes you fuller faster and alters your blood sugar levels. That makes it a very powerful tool to manage both diabetes and obesity.”
The makers of Mounjaro are quick to point out that it’s a diabetes medication, not a weight-loss drug. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved it as an anti-obesity medication — though the makers are expected to seek approval before the end of 2023.
Researchers have shown that Mounjaro can significantly lower weight in people with obesity. In that study of more than 2,500 adults with obesity, people taking 5 milligrams of Mounjaro for 72 weeks (about a year and a half) lost 15% of their body weight on average. Higher doses were associated with even more weight loss.
Based on these findings and others, doctors are prescribing Mounjaro “off-label” to help people with obesity lose weight, regardless of whether they have diabetes.
Prescribing medication off-label is a common practice. The FDA says that approved medications are able to be used for other purposes when medically advisable.
It’s not unusual for beta-blockers (heart medications) to be prescribed for people with situational anxiety. Or for anti-seizure medications to be used treat migraines. So, it’s natural for providers to use medications like Mounjaro to treat obesity.
“When you see a medication have these impressive weight loss effects, it only makes sense to prescribe them to treat the disease of obesity,” Schulz emphasizes. “Obesity is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. And it causes a cascade of health problems for people. Medications like Mounjaro are a game-changer to help people live healthier lives.”
Mounjaro is in many ways similar to another popular diabetes drug, Ozempic®, which has also been garnering buzz for its weight loss effects. Ozempic goes by the generic name semaglutide.
Ozempic, like Mounjaro, is approved by the FDA to treat diabetes, but not obesity (yet). A higher dose of semaglutide goes by the brand name Wegovy®. And Wegovy is FDA approved as an anti-obesity medication.
All three are prescribed by medical professionals as treatments for obesity.
Confused? Here’s a cheat sheet:

And there are others, too. In addition to Mounjaro, Ozempic and Wegovy, which are garnering a lot of headlines these days, other medications used to treat obesity include:
But, you may be wondering, what’s with all the talk about anti-obesity medication? Aren’t diet and exercise the keys to weight loss?
For people who are just looking to lose a few pounds, absolutely! Diet, exercise, good sleep and stress management can help you get there. Anti-obesity medications aren’t the answer for people who are just looking to shed a few pounds.
But for people living with obesity, medication is quickly becoming a reliable and effective option when diet and exercise don’t do the trick.
That’s because obesity is more than a matter of weight alone — it’s a dysfunction of the normal pathways that regulate body fat. Living with obesity fundamentally changes the way your body responds to food.
This may mean that, despite your best efforts at eating less and exercising more, the scale may refuse to budge for you.
That happens because when you’re living with obesity, your body adapts to try to keep you around your current weight. When you eat less or exercise more, your body fights to maintain body fat. It fights every inch of the way to keep you from losing weight.
In a way, medications like Mounjaro, Ozempic, Wegovy and others can override those defenses. They change the very functioning of your body in order to help you lose weight and keep it off.
Again, if you’re looking to lose 10 pounds quickly to slim down for vacation, Mounjaro isn’t the answer.
But if you’re living with diabetes or obesity, it’s worth a conversation with a healthcare provider, like your primary care doctor or an obesity specialist. Your provider will likely also recommend diet and exercise in combination with the medication.
“Mounjaro and similar medications are long-term treatments. When you stop taking the medication, it’s likely you’ll regain any lost weight,” Schulz explains. “It’s important to talk with a medical professional who understands obesity about how these medications work and what you should expect.”
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