The recent approval of a new generation of anti-obesity drugs has sparked a frenzy of interest among Americans who struggle with excess weight. But will these drugs also change the way people eat and the food industry operates?
The rise of GLP-1 agonists
The new drugs belong to a class of medications called GLP-1 agonists, which mimic a hormone that reduces appetite and blood sugar levels. They are injected once a week and can lead to significant weight loss, up to 15% or more of body weight, in most patients. They also have fewer side effects than previous diet pills, such as heart problems or addiction.
One of the most popular drugs in this category is semaglutide, marketed as Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for obesity. It was approved by the FDA in June 2021 for chronic weight management and has been hailed as a “game-changer” by some experts and media outlets. Another drug, tirzepatide, which combines two hormones, is expected to be approved soon and may be even more effective.
These drugs are not cheap, however. They cost about $1,000 per month and are not covered by most insurance plans. They also require a prescription from a doctor and regular monitoring of blood sugar and kidney function. They are not meant for everyone, but only for those who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or 27 or higher with a weight-related condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
The impact on eating habits and food choices
Some experts hope that these drugs will not only help people lose weight, but also encourage them to adopt healthier eating habits and food choices. They argue that by reducing hunger and cravings, the drugs will make it easier for people to follow a balanced diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
They also suggest that the drugs will create a demand for more nutritious and less processed foods in the market, as consumers will seek foods that satisfy their appetite and provide them with energy and nutrients. This could lead to a shift in the food industry, which has been criticized for promoting unhealthy foods that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.
However, not everyone is convinced that these drugs will have such a positive impact on eating behavior and food environment. Some critics warn that the drugs may create a false sense of security among users, who may think that they can eat whatever they want without consequences. They also point out that the drugs do not address the underlying causes of obesity, such as stress, emotional eating, lack of physical activity, genetic factors, and social determinants.
They also question the long-term safety and effectiveness of these drugs, which have not been tested for more than two years in clinical trials. They note that some people may develop tolerance or resistance to the drugs over time, or experience side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or gallstones. They also caution that the drugs may interact with other medications or supplements that people take.
The need for a holistic approach
Ultimately, most experts agree that there is no magic pill for obesity, and that these drugs should be used as part of a comprehensive approach that includes lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, and medical supervision. They emphasize that these drugs are not a substitute for healthy eating and physical activity, but rather an adjunct to help people achieve their weight-loss goals.
They also stress the importance of addressing the stigma and discrimination that people with obesity face in society, which can affect their mental health and self-esteem. They urge people to seek help from qualified professionals who can provide them with individualized care and support.
They also call for more research and innovation in the field of obesity treatment, which has been historically underfunded and neglected. They hope that these drugs will inspire more investment and interest in developing new therapies that can target different aspects of obesity and its complications.