Medications to Combat Obesity, Unlike Diabetes, Much Less in Use in US

Medications to Combat Obesity, Unlike Diabetes, Much Less in Use in US

Obesity is a major risk factor for several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and a vast majority of the patients with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. However, according to a recent study, doctors prescribe 15 times more anti-diabetes medications than those for obesity.

Currently there are six U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved anti-obesity medications on the market, intended to be used in combination with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. However, the study reports that only 2% of the eligible 46% of the adult American population is receiving these drugs.

The study, “Low adoption of weight loss medications: A comparison of prescribing patterns of antiobesity pharmacotherapies and SGLT2s,” was published in the journal Obesity.

“Given the close tie between obesity and type 2 diabetes, treating obesity should be an obvious first step for healthcare providers to prevent and treat diabetes,” Catherine E. Thomas, MS, the study’s lead researcher with Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said in a news release. “By treating obesity, we may be able to decrease the number of patients with type 2 diabetes, among other related diseases and the medications used to treat them.”

Investigators found that the barriers to adoption of obesity medication include limited time during office visits, a lack of training in counseling, lack of reimbursement for healthcare providers, and competing demands.

“A greater urgency in the treatment of obesity – on the part of clinicians and patients – is essential,” Thomas added. “We’re talking about prolonged and better quality of life for patients.”

In the study, researchers aimed to characterize the adoption of anti-obesity pharmacotherapies, as compared with that of the newest anti-diabetes pharmacotherapy, subtype 2 sodium-glucose transport protein inhibitors (SGLT2s), among prescribers in the United States.

They performed a retrospective examination of data between 2012 and 2015, extracted from the IMS Health National Prescription Audit and Xponent databases, assessing adoption rates of anti-obesity pharmacotherapies and SGLT2s.

Results showed that the number of dispensed anti-diabetes prescriptions was 15 times the number of dispensed anti-obesity prescriptions.

“By comparing the adoption rate of new antiobesity medications to the considerably faster rate for new diabetes medications, this new research provides an important snapshot of the problem,” Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of ConscienHealth, said in a commentary accompanying the study.

“Obesity is a serious disease that is not getting serious treatment,” said Charles Billington, MD, FTOS, past president and spokesman for The Obesity Society and director of Medical Weight Management at the University of Minnesota. “We are missing the opportunity among patients with serious obesity-related illness to provide the full range of proven, safe and effective therapies. It’s time to start treating people with obesity as we would others with chronic diseases – with compassion and access to evidence-based care in a clinical setting.”

The authors suggest that future studies are needed to better quantify the benefit of obesity drugs in clinical settings, as measured by patient outcomes. In addition, it is necessary to better understand the barriers to adoption of obesity medications.

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