A staggering 42% of adults in America are obese. Without serious relief, that number will be one in two by the end of this decade. But help is on the way.
Semaglutide, a “game changing” weight loss drug, received approval from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month. It is the first weight loss treatment approved since 2014, one year after the American Medical Association classified obesity as a chronic disease.
Now, people who have a body mass index of 27 or higher, and one or more obesity-related illness, are eligible for semaglutide. The medication is also approved for patients whose body mass index is 30 or higher, even if they don’t have any comorbidities.
In clinical trials, patients who received weekly injections of the medication, along with diet changes and regular exercise, realized average weight losses of 15-20%.
Being obese sharply increases one’s risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It’s a complex disease, and addressing it goes far beyond simply advising patients to eat less and move more.
With the federal approval in hand, health care providers can start prescribing semaglutide. But actually getting the medication into the hands of patients might be a bit trickier.
Historically, most insurers have been loath to cover obesity drugs. It’s a questionable decision considering that estimated medical costs for obesity top $210 billion a year.
One Harvard researcher raised concerns about the economic and societal consequences of wide-ranging obesity, especially among low-income adults. In addition to “substantial implications for future Medicaid costs,” he warned, “the effect of weight stigma could have far-reaching implications for socioeconomic disparities.”
The introduction of a highly effective weight loss medication could be a financial victory for insurers. It could also improve the health of millions of Americans who struggle with both the stigma and the health complications that come with obesity.