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3 Unexpected Impacts Of The Weight Loss Medication Buzz

Written by Dr. Tejaswi Kompala, Senior Director, Clinical Strategy, Chronic Condition Management, Teladoc Health

New weight loss drugs are improving care beyond the scale. A doctor reflects on three positive effects surrounding anti-obesity medications that you may not expect.

Demand for weight loss medications has brought obesity and weight management to the center of the conversation in ways I never could have imagined when I started my career in this field over a decade ago.

In my own practice, I’ve found that the buzz around weight loss medications is having a profound impact on how people understand their health, the actions they take—and even the way they talk about it. Here are three impacts I’ve noticed:

#1 A greater understanding of the multifactorial – and interconnected – drivers of health

One positive impact of the buzz around GLP-1s is that people now have a greater understanding of the multifactorial drivers of overweight and obesity, and recognize that it isn’t simply about willpower.

“All these years, I thought all of the people who never had to diet were just using their willpower and they were for some reason stronger than me,” Oprah Winfrey shared recently during her television special, reflecting on her own weight loss journey.

Recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss – and that it’s more complicated than just “calories in, calories out”— employers and health plans are increasingly looking for solutions that can truly address the foundational pillars of cardiometabolic health: nutrition, activity, sleep, and stress.

It’s important to address these pillars because behavior change remains important from before an individual begins a GLP-1 medication, to once they begin and after they stop—in order to achieve sustainable weight loss. And that’s the goal: weight loss – but in the context of improving overall health.

In addition, a multidisciplinary approach can make a powerful difference. Different individuals need different types of support. This is important because the weight loss treatment for a person struggling with emotional eating looks very different than someone with chronic pain and limited mobility.

At Teladoc Health, we offer truly comprehensive and integrated clinical care, that also addresses the mind-body connection and behavior change in a personalized manner. We designed our program this way because we know what drives better outcomes. For example, in our diabetes program, our data shows when mental health and chronic care are combined, not only do we see improved glucose levels, we see an additional >10% average weight loss and >30% additional reduction in systolic blood pressure.

#2 An uptick in adoption of other effective tools and interventions

GLP-1s are an important tool in the toolbox, but the long-term benefits of these medications—and ability to control costs—are also topics top of mind for many employers and health plans. This increased attention on effectiveness and outcomes has helped fuel increased adoption of other recent innovations.

So much of weight management is based in behavior change, and digital care is uniquely situated to support individuals make those changes through day-to-day interventions, individualized nudges and daily actions. Additionally, through the use of AI, we can deliver digital experiences that are highly personalized, leading to sustained engagement over the long run—a key factor in maintaining results.

Advances in technology are also helping us better reach individuals who are higher risk and in higher need. For example, machine learning has transformed the way we support individuals with diabetes in the past few years. Today, predictive modeling can proactively identify a person at-risk for uncontrolled outcomes, and at Teladoc Health we can help a member overcome challenges more than a year in advance. Forecasting outcomes ahead of time enables more effective, timely interventions which reduces adverse outcomes. We expect to see continued momentum in this space.

#3 Reduced stigma

Stigma is one of the many factors that makes treating obesity and overweight so complex.

Despite the prevalence of these diseases, people often experience prejudice, shame and discrimination, including from healthcare professionals. Everyone deserves to get care from clinicians and providers who are well versed in obesity management—for appropriate clinical care, but also for a nonjudgmental inclusive approach rooted in clinical and behavioral science.

In my own practice, I’ve seen first-hand how stigma can lower a person’s self-esteem, increase risk of depression and anxiety, and even make people more likely to avoid or delay care—which can fuel additional health risks and costs. That’s in addition to the other serious and costly conditions that can come from untreated or mismanaged obesity—like heart disease, liver disease stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Because of the buzz around these medications, many people are now seeking support for the first time. Seeing more people seek support for their health condition is a shift we should welcome. Regardless of whether the GLP-1 medication might be the right course of treatment for an individual, it’s important to not lose sight of this important opportunity to help more people achieve their health goals.

** This content was originally published on Forbes

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