Pharmacotherapy for adults with overweight and obesity: a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Pharmacotherapy provides an option for adults with overweight and obesity to reduce their bodyweight if lifestyle modifications fail. We summarised the latest evidence for the benefits and harms of weight-lowering drugs.

This systematic review and network meta-analysis included searches of PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Library (CENTRAL) from inception to March 23, 2021, for randomised controlled trials of weight-lowering drugs in adults with overweight and obesity. We performed frequentist random-effect network meta-analyses to summarise the evidence and applied the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation frameworks to rate the certainty of evidence, calculate the absolute effects, categorise interventions, and present the findings. The study was registered with PROSPERO, CRD 42021245678.

14 605 citations were identified by our search, of which 143 eligible trials enrolled 49 810 participants. Except for levocarnitine, all drugs lowered bodyweight compared with lifestyle modification alone; all subsequent numbers refer to comparisons with lifestyle modification. High to moderate certainty evidence established phentermine–topiramate as the most effective in lowering weight (odds ratio [OR] of ≥5% weight reduction 8·02, 95% CI 5·24 to 12·27; mean difference [MD] of percentage bodyweight change −7·97, 95% CI −9·28 to −6·66) followed by GLP-1 receptor agonists (OR 6·33, 95% CI 5·00 to 8·00; MD −5·76, 95% CI −6·30 to −5·21). Naltrexone–bupropion (OR 2·69, 95% CI 2·11 to 3·43), phentermine–topiramate (2·40, 1·69 to 3·42), GLP-1 receptor agonists (2·17, 1·71 to 2·77), and orlistat (1·72, 1·44 to 2·05) were associated with increased adverse events leading to drug discontinuation. In a post-hoc analysis, semaglutide, a GLP-1 receptor agonist, showed substantially larger benefits than other drugs with a similar risk of adverse events as other drugs for both likelihood of weight loss of 5% or more (OR 9·82, 95% CI 7·09 to 13·61) and percentage bodyweight change (MD −11·41, 95% CI −12·54 to −10·27).

In adults with overweight and obesity, phentermine–topiramate and GLP-1 receptor agonists proved the best drugs in reducing weight; of the GLP-1 agonists, semaglutide might be the most effective.