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Are the new weight loss medications the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for? Probably not, and here’s why.

What the newly released weight loss drugs mean for employers—and how they can best take advantage of these new offerings.

Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, PHD, Wondr Chief Medical Officer, dives deeper into what the newly released weight loss drugs means—and how employers can best take advantage of these new offerings.

Over the last few months, there have been numerous news stories, blogs, and general e-sphere writings about the new weight loss medications. The newest FDA approved medication is thought to be a game changer—with 15-20% weight loss and substantial associated clinical benefits to blood sugar control, blood pressure, and lipids. All this, combined with a minimal side-effect profile quickly leads to the question: Putting costs aside for now, are these medications the non-surgical weight loss silver bullet that we have been waiting for? 

The answer is both yes and no. These new medications greatly improve the number on the scale, but when used in isolation, they fail to treat the whole patient.  Let’s dive in…. a comprehensive behavioral weight loss program addresses stress, anxiety, resilience, nutrition, sleep, alcohol, and physical activity.  One of my favorite sayings is “treat the patient, not the number on the scale”.  While these new medications clearly have great impact on the scale, their use without a modern behavioral program has the potential to result in only a fraction of the achievable clinical benefits….and the science strongly supports this.  

The data is clear that when a strong behavioral program—particularly one that is focused on physical activity—is combined with these new medications, the weight loss will be greater and last longer.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend that an employer implement one without a behavioral component as a requirement. Here’s why: a comprehensive behavioral program provides a whole person approach to helping patients and allows for a better opportunity to address the original source of the weight gain. Because, ultimately, treating the root cause contributes to more sustainable outcomes. Weight gain and weight loss are complicated processes that are multifactorial in nature. Focusing only on the number on the scale fails to address why the patient gained the weight in the first place.  Stress, poor sleep habits, alcohol, inactivity, and many other modifiable factors contribute to weight gain and overall health. Generating weight loss, without addressing the co-morbid behaviors does not optimize patient care.        

Of course, the manufacturers, the FDA, and the package insert will all mention the importance of healthy diet and physical activity, but we all know how ineffective these messages are. I believe is it up to the patients, payers, and carriers to demand that these new weight loss medications be combined with a modern comprehensive behavioral program. This will provide the most benefit to the patient, the payor, the carriers, and ultimately, the manufacturer. If employers are looking to implement these new weight loss medications, they should consider supplemental programs that utilize science-based behavioral change, can easily fit within their existing solutions, and address the whole person (not just the scale) to make the biggest impact on the health of their people and their bottom line.

Interested in additional resources? Don’t miss our in-depth clinical conversation, “The good, the bad, and the money: An employer’s guide to the new weight loss medications” with renowned experts Dr. Donna Ryan, MD, Former President of World Obesity Federation, and Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, PHD, Wondr Chief Medical Officer, as they dive deeper into what these new medications are and how employers can best take advantage of them.

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