Ozempic is disrupting the weight-loss industry, how far will it go?
December 13th, 2023, Clifton Mark

Ozempic is disrupting the weight-loss industry, how far will it go?

Summary of semaglutide market analysis (scroll down for article): 

  • 60% of Americans at least sometimes try to lose weight.
  • 38% would take semaglutide (Wegovy, Ozempic) today, if it was offered by their doctor.
  • Semaglutide use for weight loss is likely to grow.
  • Americans do not see semaglutide as “the easy way out” for weight loss.
  • Successful semaglutide users likely to exercise more rather than less.


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America’s weight-loss ambitions

Weight loss is big business in America. According to a new YouGov market research survey, 60.3% of Americans say they sometimes try to lose weight, including 31.0% who say they are often or almost always doing so. Only 17.5% say the never try to lose weight.

Moreover, many have quite ambitious weight-loss goals. Among those who are trying to slim down, 42% hope to lose more than a tenth of their bodyweight, including 8% who are aiming to shed more than 40%.

These weight-loss ambitions are helping to fuel the fitness and diet industries. According to YouGov Profiles, 29.3% of Americans followed some form of marketed diet, such as Atkins or paleo in the past 12 months. A third of US adults (35.4%) have some kind of fitness membership, whether to a gym or to a specialty studio.

Who’s eyeing semaglutide for weight loss?

Semaglutide is the exciting newcomer to the weight-loss industry. Originally designed to treat type 2 diabetes, semaglutide is the drug in such brands such Wegovy, Rybelsus and Ozempic. When Ozempic started trending on TikTok in January, only 35.1% of Americans had ever heard of the drug. After a year of media virality and celebrity associations, more than half (57.9%) of Americans have now heard of semaglutide.

The new drug’s rise to fame has provoked jitters across weight-related industries, from fast-food, to healthcare, bariatric surgery and marketed diets. But how big is semaglutide and how open are consumers to using these new drugs?

While most of America has heard of semaglutide-based drugs, only a small fraction, only 6.7%, has actually tried them. This compares around 60% who’ve attempted dieting or exercise, still by far the most popular weight-loss strategies.

Among consumers who’ve heard of the drug, doubts remain. Less than a third (30.1%) believe it’s an effective form of weight loss and only 16.0% say that it’s safe. (see chart “semaglutide opinions” below)

Despite skepticism about safety and efficacy, many Americans would be willing to give semaglutide a shot anyway. If offered prescription of semaglutide by a doctor today, 38% said they would accept it. A quarter (26%) said they would do it to treat a weight-related condition such as obesity, and a fifth (20.7%) would take semaglutide if they wanted to lose a few pounds to look or feel better.

Some demographic groups are more open to using semaglutide than others. Men are slightly more likely than women to try semaglutide (39.3% vs. 35.9%), and wealthier respondents (income is $80k+) are more likely than the national average (46.0% vs. 37.6%). Those in the middle income bracket ($40k-$79.9k) are least likely to accept the drugs (33.9%) and most likely to worry about side-effect (31.1%).

Americans who are in a relationship (married, civil partnership etc) are more likely than those who are not to accept the drug (40.4% vs 34.6%) but only if it’s needed for health reasons. The difference is negligible for those who aim to look or feel better.

One of the starkest differences between demographic groups is between parents of children under 18 and everyone else. One in two parents of minors (49.4%) would accept a semaglutide prescription compared to 33.8% of everyone else. They are significantly more likely to do so both to treat medical conditions (30.6% vs 23.9%) and to improve their looks (29.1% vs 18.0%).

Those who would decline the drug if offered by their doctor (50.2%) offered a variety of rationales for refusing it. Safety is consumers’ top concern, with 27.0% saying they would not take the drug because there might be undesirable side-effects. Another 22.3% said they would prefer to try other methods of weight loss first. Price is also a pain point, with 13.2% saying that they wouldn’t take it because it would be expensive.

Why semaglutide’s star will keep rising

Awareness of the drug as well as usage is currently growing, not least because of the massive media coverage attracted by the drug this year. While there have been shocking success stories, the press has also been filled with cautionary tales of unexpected side-effects. Will such stories eventually hurt semaglutide’s reputation and profitability?

While it’s impossible to say what the future holds, there are signs that semaglutide’s popularity will continue to grow. In the first place, health risks will not deter all consumers. Among consumers who do not believe semaglutide is safe, a third (33.7%) would still be willing to start taking it today if offered by their doctor.

Further, the overall effect of the past year’s publicity seems positive for the drug. Those who have heard of semaglutide before taking the survey are more likely to try it (44.0%) than those who had not heard of it (29.1%). It seems that existing press coverage, including the horror stories, has improved the drug’s reputation.

Another indication that semaglutide will continue to grow in popularity is that our data suggests users are having a positive experience. Those who’ve used semaglutide before are much more likely to say that the drug is safe and effective, and they’re more likely to use it again than those who’ve never used it. Of the 156 respondents who used the drug before, 50.2% say it is safe compared to only 11.7% of those who had heard of the drug but never tried it. Further, 78.9% of former users of semaglutide would try using it again if it was offered today compared to only 34.7% of the general population.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the experience of using semaglutide improved their opinion of the drug. It may simply be that those who believed it was safe were more willing to try it in the first place. However, these results do show that users are not being turned off from the drug in large numbers. This may indicate that headlines about regretful users and exotic side effects depict exceptions rather than the rules.

YouGov data suggests that the more people know about semaglutide, the more interested they are in taking it to lose weight. It also shows that those who try it are more inclined to use it again. If this is true, then continued publicity and word-of-mouth from a growing number of users can only improve the drug’s prospects for growth.

Gym owners rejoice

Unless new revelations of side-effects or regulations intervene, semaglutide use will likely continue to grow and potentially disrupt other weight-related industries. However, the precise effects of widespread adoption is not yet clear.

Some worried that the fitness industry might suffer if there were a cheap pharmaceutical fix for weight woes. Why would anyone work out if they could slim down without effort? Part of the answer is that, for most respondents, using prescriptions drugs to lose weight isn’t “the easy way out.” When asked what weight-loss method requires the least effort, many more say “dieting” (25.4%) or “exercise” (20.9%) than “semaglutide” (17.4%). Exercise and diet aren’t just the more virtuous or healthy options, most people think they're easier.

In fact, losing weight with semaglutide may be easier than most people suspect. Those who’ve taken it before are twice as likely to it will take the least effort (34.3%). Still, semaglutide is seldom the first resort for weight loss. Those who’ve used it have likely tried dieting and exercise without satisfactory results. And even among them, only a third (34.3%) believe that semaglutide is the lowest-effort option.

Much more important for the fitness industry is that most people don’t see diet drugs as a substitute for exercise but rather as an enabler. When asked how their exercise habits would change if they were successful in losing weight with semaglutide, only one in ten (11.6%) of YouGov’s respondents said they would exercise less. By contrast, a third (32.1%) said they would exercise more and another third (36.3%) said they would exercise the same amount.

While people’s projections about how much exercise they will do in the future should always be taken with a grain of salt, the idea that semaglutide supports exercise does not seem to be wishful thinking. Respondents who’ve used the drug before are twice as likely as those who haven’t to say they’d exercise more if successful with the drug (59.0% vs 30.2%). This suggests that widespread adoption of semaglutide is more likely to boost the fitness industry than to break it.

Semaglutide is the rising star of massive American weight-loss industry and it appears that it will continue growing and will inevitably affect other businesses in this space. However, the precise nature of its effects on related businesses is not yet clear.

Methodology:This YouGov study was conducted using YouGov Surveys: Serviced between Nov. 16-20, 2023, with a nationally representative sample of 2, 445 adults aged 18+ in the United States.