Sat. May 25th, 2024

Above view of African American lady measuring her waist with tape, standing on scales indoors, … [+] closeup. Young black woman showing results of slimming diet or liposuction, promoting healthy living


Obesity stands as a significant public health issue in the United States, disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minority communities. Approximately 71 million adults in the U.S., or one-third of the total adult population, were classified as obese. Particularly, the Black community bears the brunt of this health crisis as 49% of adults in this demographic qualify as obese. Over time, pharmaceutical companies have developed anti-obesity drugs, offering a glimmer of hope in a market that’s expected to reach $44 billion by 2030.

The Breakdown You Need To Know:

Over the past few years, new anti-obesity medications have emerged, offering new opportunities for obesity treatment. These drugs, including Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy (semaglutide) and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro (tirzepatide). All were initially approved to treat type 2 diabetes by the FDA, but have also proven effective in helping people lose weight. By 2035, overweightness is expected to drag down global GDP by $4 trillion according to Goldman Sachs. CultureBanx reported this is a problem drugmakers are looking to financially capitalize on due to the immense potential revenue the market could generate.

While these drugs present a potential solution to the obesity crisis, their high cost poses a significant barrier to access. These weight loss drugs can cost in excess of $1,300 per month out-of-pocket. Moreover, coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, and private plans remains limited.

Weight loss drug makers Ozempic and Wegovy have been courting influential Black leaders to plead their Medicare coverage case. They enlisted Black music and entertainment stars Queen Latifah and Yvette Nicole Brown to be paid spokespeople for an educational campaign. Novo Nordisk is trying to reverse a 20-year-old ban on coverage of drugs used for weight loss under Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Obesity Burden:

Unfortunately, obesity rates are not evenly distributed across racial and ethnic lines. The majority of adults with obesity are Black at 49%, while another 45% are Hispanic, 41% are white and 16% are Asian, according to the CDC. When you consider that Black people make up 10% of Medicare beneficiaries across the country. More than half of the Black Medicare population has obesity and three-fourths have hypertension.

Expanding Medicare coverage to include these new classes of weight loss drugs could significantly reduce healthcare costs, according to a recent white paper by the USC Schaeffer Center. The paper estimates that treating obesity could generate approximately $175 billion in cost offsets to Medicare in the first decade alone, increasing to $700 billion in 30 years. If all eligible Americans were treated, the prevalence of obesity in the Medicare population would fall by 53% after the first decade.

Situational Awareness:

There are some downsides to these weight loss drugs including gastrointestinal issues, which are the most common complaint among people just starting semaglutide, according UCLA Health.

While the high cost of anti-obesity drugs is a significant barrier, the potential benefits of these medications, both in terms of health outcomes and financial savings are substantial. As such, efforts to expand coverage of these drugs, particularly through Medicare, represent an important step towards addressing the obesity crisis and its disproportionate impact on the Black community.

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