Ania Jastreboff on the Future of Obesity Meds

OW2022: Clearing a Path to Better Obesity Care

Opening ObesityWeek with a quick succession of pithy talks to set the agenda for the week seems to be a good way of getting getting the attention of the diverse audience focused on obesity. Last night, it worked. A series of talks served to focus the group on the theme for OW2022 that President Dan Bessesen articulated in his opening – clearing the way to better obesity care. That means addressing bias and stigma that gets in the way, he said. It also means advancing and sharing the science that informs our understanding of obesity. Finally, it means making sure that the care is well grounded in evidence and provided equitably.

A series of eight ten-minute talks from Bessesen, Maren Laughlin, Mary Evans, Lee Kaplan, Ania Jastreboff, Ted Kyle, Sam Klein, and Bret Goodpaster served this purpose quite well.

A Leap into the Future of Effective Obesity Meds

Jastreboff commanded our attention with a breathtaking review of the breadth of options in development for obesity treatment. We are seeing the ambition of matching the effectiveness of surgery with these new meds come within reach. When Novo Nordisk first articulated this vision five years ago, it seemed almost impossibly bold.

She described the development of new drugs for obesity in detail that we have not previously seen all in one place. But more important, she told us that we are coming closer to actually targeting the pathophysiology of obesity in treating it. This requires deeper understanding of diverse mechanisms and pursuing a deeper understanding of the quality of effect that new meds might have – not just the quantity of weight loss.

Understanding the Hurdles

Jastreboff ended by saying that all this innovation will come to naught if these new meds are not accessible and affordable. So ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle followed with an examination of the hurdles standing in the way of that goal. Health insurance coverage is important, but it stands at the end of a series of barriers in the way of better access to care. Fundamentally, it is a misunderstanding of obesity fueling bias about the disease and the people who live with it that props up these barriers, he said.

Add to that a broken system for healthcare and bizarre market forces driving prices higher and we have some serious problems to overcome.

Despite all of this, Kyle sees signs of progress. It comes from advancing and translating the science of obesity. Advocacy for effective treatment and prevention of the disease is helping.

Elevating the Voice of Lived Experience

But perhaps one of the most important factors is the elevation of voices with the lived experience of obesity. Toward that end, it was wonderful to see the outstanding work of Patty Nece recognized with a Presidential Medal of Distinction. Nece is an attorney with a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Department of Labor who has turned her attention to advocacy for people living with obesity. She is Chair of the Obesity Action Coalition.

In her work, she fearlessly steps up and shares her experience with bias in all aspects of life – including healthcare – that gets in the way of her pursuing better health and happiness.

Bessesen spoke personally of how her work has shaped the perspective he brings to his own work. It’s this kind of advocacy that give us confidence we will indeed clear the path for better obesity care.

Click here for Kyle’s presentation to the Presidential Plenary at ObesityWeek and here for an excellent thread summarizing all of this.

Ania Jastreboff on the Future of Obesity Meds, photograph by Ted Kyle / Flickr

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November 2, 2022