Oh, Ozempic: Retail analysts find weight loss pills have little impact

Retail analysts say pharmaceutical advocates have hyped the success of high-priced weight-loss drugs like Ozempic in a campaign to make appetite suppressants a new standard in obesity care. enlarged.

Walmart reported this month that it has seen a slight decrease in food purchases among customers using prescription anti-diabetic drugs such as Mounjaro, Ozempic and Wegovy. That has prompted supermarket chain Kroger and snack food company Conagra Brands to say they may consider selling smaller and healthier portions if the trend continues.

Still, restaurant, fast food, snack and weight loss experts interviewed by The Washington Times said they don’t expect U.S. industries to prepare for a wave of leaner Americans anytime soon. . They gave the reason:

Internal industry data shows that fewer than 2 in 100 Americans took the drug regularly last year, and the most optimistic estimates suggest only 7 in 100 people will receive a regular prescription by 2035.

Most health insurance plans only cover medications to control Type 2 diabetes, not weight loss, forcing patients to pay directly.

Under its patent monopoly, Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk charges a monthly premium of $300 to $1,300 for Wegovy, a version of Ozempic approved for weight loss. The drug costs about $35 to produce.

The long-term safety and effectiveness of insulin-producing diabetes drugs for weight loss are unknown, and the drugs have alarming side effects such as gastroparesis.

“I don’t think drugs will affect the restaurant business anytime soon and may never affect it,” said Larry Lavine, founder of the Chilis Grill & Bar restaurant chain. People tend to forget about their diet when eating out.

Andy Puzder, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it’s too early to know whether Ozempic will be a game-changer in the market like Viagra or another craze like Beyond Meat or Atkins that is fading with time. time.

Mr. Puzder, former CEO of Carls Jr. and Hardees parent company, CKE Restaurants, say no matter how much you want to lose weight, many people in this economy won’t be able to afford $1,000 a month.

Novo Nordisk, which holds exclusive rights to sell Ozempic and Wegovy in the US until 2031, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying to expand the market.

Last Friday, the company raised its third-quarter financial outlook ahead of its Nov. 2 earnings report, citing a 33% increase in revenue and a 37% increase in operating profit in the first nine months of the year. Novo Nordisk said U.S. sales of Ozempic and Wegovy, a version of the Type 2 diabetes drug approved for weight loss, drove growth.

In the last three months of 2022, Novo Nordisk sold 9 million prescriptions for Ozempic and Wegovy in the US. The company’s market value has increased to $350 billion over the past year.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis-based competitor Eli Lilly & Co. has seen similar growth in prescription sales of Mounjaro, the brand name of a diabetes drug. called tirzepatide, which observers expect will be approved for weight loss this year.

Lilly is currently studying how to use tirzepatide to treat obesity in adults, Jessica Thompson, vice president of diabetes corporate affairs at Eli Lilly, said in an email. However, it is not approved for this indication.

Calley Means, co-founder of TrueMed, an Austin, Texas-based company that offers diet and exercise plans for weight loss, said pharmaceutical interest groups have lobbied hard for a A bill pending in Congress would force health insurance companies to cover these drugs. -obesity treatment. He said that would cost insurance companies about $20,000 per patient annually.

Mr. Means, a former lobbyist for the food and pharmaceutical industries, said the more patients, the higher the profits, and that obesity is the biggest market in the history of health care. The motivation here is not to cure people but to find something that they can use for a lifetime so that you can manage and profit from them.

Reintroduced this year, the Obesity Reduction and Treatment Act had 17 cosponsors in the Senate last year and 125 cosponsors in the House. It has yet to reach a floor vote in either chamber.

According to Allison Schneider, director of media relations for Novo Nordisks, the company believes that having Medicare and Medicaid cover these drugs as anti-obesity drugs will help them reach about 110 million living American adults. common with obesity.

Novo Nordisk believes that the most effective way to make them accessible and affordable to the millions of Americans who need anti-obesity drugs is to ensure these drugs are covered by government and commercial insurance plans, Ms. Schneider said. know in an email.

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic as an insulin-boosting treatment for Type 2 diabetes. The agency added Wegovy as a weight loss treatment in 2021 that Insurance companies are not required to pay.

Both drugs reduce body weight by 10% to 20% by slowing digestion, making users feel full on smaller portions.

The FDA said in an email to The Times that only Wegovy is approved for chronic weight management.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, said public health insurance coverage of prescription weight-loss drugs remains optional under the Social Security Act.

CMS does not comment on proposed legislation or lobbying efforts, the agency said in a statement to The Times.

Retail leaders say it will take years of prescription drug sales gains before restaurants, weight-loss companies and gyms sweat the efforts.

Branden Muhl, CEO of Mahaska Bottling Co., said Mahaska Markets automated convenience stores at industrial manufacturing plants will only adjust their menus if prices are reduced by 50% to 75% and The treatment proves safe and effective for long-term use.

He said even the most optimistic estimates show the proportion of Americans using drugs regularly will increase from 1.5% last year to 7% by 2035, making any noticeable impact food consumption habits in the distant future.

“Any short-term impact on consumption in our business is not detectable in any data we have,” Mr. Muhl said.

Economist Markus Bjoerkheim, a researcher at George Mason University’s free-market Mercatus Center, estimates that a five- to 10-fold increase in prescription drug sales would be enough to change the way Americans eat. and shopping.

Mr. Bjoerkheim told The Times that it is extremely rare for a product to have a direct impact on an entire industry. This medicine can do that.

Skeptics of Ozempic and Wegovy point to emerging evidence that long-term use of these drugs to maintain weight loss can cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, depression and even gastroparesis. system stops processing food into energy, leading to symptoms such as bloating and chronic abdominal pain.

According to medical experts, losing weight on Wegovy and Ozempic without adopting a healthier diet and exercising regularly will reduce their health benefits.

Dr. Natalie Bello, a cardiologist and researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says this is because we know there are heart health benefits to eating a healthy diet. Drink healthy and exercise in addition to losing weight.

Adolfo Cuevas, assistant professor at the Center for Anti-Racism, Social Justice and Public Health at New York University.

Mr. Cuevas said these drugs are not a cure for obesity but rather an adjunct. To truly tackle the problem of obesity, we must adopt a comprehensive approach, including improving access to nutritious foods and promoting environments that encourage regular exercise.

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