Five Hurdles for Obesity Drugs

Two new obesity drugs — Belviq and Qsymia — have cleared formidable hurdles just gaining approval and at lease three more drugs appear to be on the way. But how can it be — with 100 million Americans affected by obesity — that uptake of these new treatments is painfully slow? The answer lies with five hurdles that keep slowing things down.

  1. Understanding the Disease(s). Most people, including physicians and healthcare professionals, have a simplistic understanding of obesity, thinking it is just a “lifestyle” disease that results from eating too much and moving too little. Professionals who devote their careers to studying obesity are concluding that this disease is distinctly different in different patients. Different patients respond very differently to treatment.
  2. Reducing Weight Bias. “I can’t feel much sympathy for people with obesity” is something you’ll hear a lot, even from health professionals. Given such attitudes, patients don’t get much help, and in fact research shows that they avoid healthcare because of these attitudes.
  3. Equipping Physicians. Without training to counsel patients with obesity and provide tailored treatment, physicians simply avoid the subject. And so it’s a chronic disease that hides in plain sight.
  4. Paying for Treatment. We have a chicken and egg situation where physicians don’t typically treat obesity because many health plans don’t pay for it. Health plans don’t pay for it, partly because it’s unusual for physicians to treat. But the truth is that we’re all paying a big bill for obesity because of all the diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint disease, and cancers that result from untreated obesity.
  5. Tailoring Treatment. When we get serious about really treating obesity, we’ll start learning to tailor treatment to individual patient needs. Not every patient responds equally well to surgery, drugs, or a standardized behavioral intervention. Efforts to tailor treatment are hampered by having too few options and a thin evidence base.

Click here to read more in the New Yorker and here to read more from the Motley Fool.

At the Gates of Twilight, photograph © Boris Brückhäuser/ flickr

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