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Experts weigh in on mental health, obesity and GLP-1s

Get insights from Teladoc Health's clinical experts on how GLP-1 medications for obesity can impact mental health, and why an integrated approach to weight loss and mental wellness is crucial for long-term success.

In our recent webinar, Teladoc Health experts Dr. Russell Dubois, Senior Director, Enterprise Clinical Strategy and Quality, Mental Health, and Dr. Tejaswi Kompala, Senior Director, Clinical Strategy, Chronic Condition Management, delved into the intricate relationship between obesity, GLP-1s and mental health.

Hosted by Solome Tibebu, CEO and Founder, Behavioral Health Tech, the session provided a platform for understanding the bidirectional relationship between obesity and mental health, how GLP-1s fit in and what organizations can do to help the people they serve who are dealing with these issues. 

There were three key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Mental and physical issues must be addressed together to ensure people get on the road to better health

Research has revealed a complex interrelationship between obesity and mental health, with each posing treatment barriers to the other. Eighty-five percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or have obesity, and obesity is connected to higher risks of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Mental health conditions may manifest into physical conditions, such as weight gain, increases in blood glucose or the exacerbation of an existing physical condition.

Conversely, a chronic condition diagnosis or having obesity can trigger anxiety or stress, feelings of low self-worth, low self-esteem and more. Also, the symptoms of mental health conditions that are often comorbid with chronic medical conditions are inherently and directly linked to physical health.

With weight management, we know that being overweight can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety or depression associated with weight stigmas, poor body image and low self-esteem, which can manifest into greater weight gain and increased risk for additional cardiometabolic issues.

Nutrition, activity, stress and sleep are all factors that play into managing both mental and physical conditions. Addressing these four pillars of cardiometabolic health is critical to success with weight loss or managing a chronic condition. There’s no denying that there are mental health forces and factors that affect a person’s ability to live a healthy lifestyle, and there should always be a behavioral component to any successful weight loss program. 

2. GLP-1s are a great tool to aid in weight loss, but they may bring up new mental health challenges 

Only in the last decade has the clinical community officially viewed obesity as a chronic disease influenced by biology rather than a lifestyle concern or a lack of discipline around diet and exercise. The availability of GLP-1s—glucagon-like peptide-1 agonist, used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity—for weight loss is amplifying the conversation around treating obesity as the complex disease that it is, a major step forward for people needing help to achieve better health. However, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to truly change the narrative around obesity.

Because of how we’ve viewed obesity in our society and in the medical community, many people who use, or have used, GLP-1s for weight loss, report experiencing guilt and shame from their peers or even themselves for losing weight with the help of prescription medication.

Additionally, successful treatment with GLP-1 therapy for weight loss requires people to maintain lasting healthy habits such as nutrition, activity, sleep and stress management. Therefore, implementing mental health services with GLP-1 therapy can go a long way to help ensure people make the most of GLP-1 therapies for weight loss.

3. Weight management programs should effectively address mental health concerns with an integrated approach to care

While weight management and mental health programs are successful on their own, they are more powerful and provide better health outcomes when they’re accessed together. Recently, Teladoc Health presented research showing that employees who were in chronic condition management programs and engaged with digital mental health achieved 80%+ greater improvement in blood glucose, 30%+ greater improvement in blood pressure and 10%+ greater weight loss compared to those who didn't engage with a digital mental health program.

Weight management programs that strive to address mental health alongside weight loss need to put forth a broad spectrum of integrated mental health solutions that can be flexible and adapt to individual needs that change over time. This means providing a full suite of integrated mental health offerings such as digital programs, coaching, therapy and psychiatry, and having providers who also use evidence-based practices and guidelines.

Making these programs a seamless and easy experience for people keeps them active and engaged, which is an integral part of helping them to be more successful in reaching their health goals.

Integrated chronic care and weight management solutions such as those offered by Teladoc Health are focused on delivering strong and measurable outcomes for our clients and members. To learn more, click below to visit the webinar page.

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