How are weight loss medications approved by the FDA?

Weight loss medication is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to lose weight. 

As such, companies are rushing to develop new weight loss medications to get in on the action. However, weight loss medications are regulated and monitored by the FDA, which means they need FDA approval to be considered a viable and legal option.

FDA approval is significant, not just because it legalizes certain medications but because of the weight that the FDA carries. FDA approval means that the drug in question has been tested, re-tested, and finally approved by the FDA. When this happens, the FDA determines that the drug’s benefits outweigh the potential risks and side effects. Therefore, you should only use weight loss medications approved by the FDA. 

A male doctor measuring fat percentage on a female patient, that is smiling, with the help of skinfold calipers.

Overview of the FDA Approval Process For Weight Loss Medications

While it’s possible for weight loss medications to get distributed and sold without FDA approval, it’s much more difficult. Additionally, the FDA is the gold standard when it comes to proving that drugs are safe and effective. In general, three broad steps are involved with getting a weight loss medication FDA-approved. 

Initial Drug Development 

As with any new product, the first step in seeking FDA approval is to create a drug that requires it. Here’s what the process involves.

This is the earliest stage of developing a new drug and is when the company researches compounds to find the best option for its drug. Pre-clinical studies aren’t performed on human trials. 

Following the pre-clinical studies, the company will file for an Investigational New Drug Application with the FDA if the drug shows potential. The IND will contain all the details about the drug that the FDA needs to know.

Next, the company will test its weight loss medication on a variety of animals to determine the potential benefits and side effects. 

pre-clinical studies

Clinical Trials 

If a drug makes it through the initial development stage, it will proceed to clinical trials.

  • Clinical trial phases

The clinical trial phase involves more animal testing as well as human testing. There are four different phases of clinical trials; each one is more in-depth and involves more test subjects.

  • Objectives of clinical trials

Clinical trials aim to determine how effective weight loss medication is in humans. Trials are also necessary to determine the drug’s potential risks and side effects.

There are four clinical trial phases that a drug has to pass in order to proceed to the next steps toward FDA approval. 

  1. Phase 1 includes between 20 and 100 people with a weight issue and lasts for several months. 
  2. Phase 2 includes several hundred people with weight issues and can last up to two years. 
  3. Phase 3 includes up to 3,000 people with weight issues and can last up to four years. 
  4. Phase 4 includes several thousand people with weight issues and can last indefinitely. 

In every phase, there’s a group of people who receive the weight loss medication and a group who receives a placebo. 

group of people discusing the plan for medical studies

Submitting a New Drug Application

Finally, if a drug makes it through all four phases of clinical trials, the company can submit a new drug application to the FDA. The new drug application is very comprehensive and tells the FDA everything they need to know about the drug. This includes its intended uses, dosage information, precautions, and safety information. 

FDA Approval Process

Once the FDA receives a new drug application, it goes through the following steps. If it makes it all the way to the end, the drug will receive FDA approval. 

  • New Drug Application review

Once they receive your NDA, the FDA will review it thoroughly.

An FDA Advisory Committee may be necessary if there are additional concerns about the drug.

If everything checks out, the FDA will perform one more check to ensure that the drug labels are correct and there’s no misinformation. After they do this, they will approve the drug for commercial use. 


Once they’ve approved a drug and it’s sold on the open market, the FDA continues monitoring the effectiveness and potential risks of the weight loss medication in question. 

Challenges of Approving Weight Loss Medications

Because of the potential risks involved with any new drug, there are tons of challenges involved with getting a weight loss medication FDA-approved.

  • Only a fraction of weight loss medications make it through all four phases of clinical trials
  • There’s a high degree of difficulty in predicting long-term safety and efficacy
  • There are tons of regulatory requirements involved with FDA approval
  • The NDA review process is stringent to ensure there aren’t labeling or production mistakes

Because it is difficult to get new weight loss medications FDA-approved, you can rest assured that the ones that do are worth the money. 


In order to protect the general public and reduce the risk of dangerous drugs, the FDA has a stringent approval process for weight loss medications. However, if a medication has FDA approval, you can be sure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the cons and that it’s safe for you to take.

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