The Other Side Effect of Obesity Meds: Economic Disruption

Finance Minister Vladimir KokovtsovPeople are beginning to discover a major side effect of advanced meds for obesity that is not gastrointestinal – it’s economic disruption. Retailers, food makers, and participants in the huge business of health systems are all just starting to wrap their heads around the disruptive potential of more accessible and effective obesity treatment.

Already, the success of Ozempic and Wegovy is re-shaping the Danish economy. Novo Nordisk is now the most valuable company in Europe, worth $446 billion. This amount exceeds the entire economic output of Denmark, where the company has its headquarters.

Denmark’s economic statistics agency reports that pharmaceuticals generated two-thirds of the economic growth for the country last year.


For better or worse, these obesity medicines, including a steady stream of even more in development, will spark changes throughout the economy, creating opportunities for both good and bad things to happen to a wide range of companies. Writing in the New York Times Dealbook, Vivienne Walt and Lauren Hirsch explain:

“In theory, that opportunity – both for making profits and for losing fortunes – could be vast not only for the companies behind these drugs but also for some in completely different industries.”

Already, companies that make medical devices and protein bars are explaining how this revolution in obesity care is affecting their businesses. Retailers say that prescriptions for these drugs are bringing them more foot traffic and thus, a bump in other purchases.

Speculation About the Food Industry

What happens if the American appetite for caloric drinks and an endless array of nutritionally dubious foods begins to plateau or wane? James van Geelen of Citrinas Capital Management speculated in a recent Bloomberg interview:

“If you’re eating fast food every day, you’ll probably continue to eat fast food every day. You will just eat a lot less of it.”

We are clearly a long way from seeing anything but tiny increments of the changes that might come from more effective, accessible obesity treatment. Even with all the hype about people clamoring for these drugs, very few people can find and afford them.

But new obesity meds are already bringing economic disruption and more is on the way. Health systems and health insurers are seeing it first. People who think they can keep it at bay are fooling themselves. These changes will ripple through the economy for years to come.

Click here, here, and here for more on this dimension of the obesity revolution.

Finance Minister Vladimir Kokovtsov, caricature by Boris Kustodiev / Wikimedia Commons

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September 12, 2023