Weight Loss Medications: Barriers to Acceptance

weight loss medicationAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of adults in the United States are suffering from obesity. Since the problem is so widespread, it seems like obesity drugs would be welcomed into the market with open arms. However, this has not been the case in recent years. Contrave, the latest obesity drug to be submitted to the FDA for approval is expected to be available after September, 2014. However, even if it is approved, it will be only the third new drug to enter the market in the past 13 years.

Challenges Facing Weight Loss Drugs

A number of challenges prevent the widespread acceptance of obesity medications. Some of these challenges include:

Culture. Although many medical professionals now recognize obesity as a disease, not everyone shares this view. Many people and influential organizations view obesity as little more than a lack of willpower. Based on this view, these organizations promote lifestyle change such as diet and exercise and shun the use of medications. It is not clear how this attitude persists in the face of overwhelming evidence that diet and exercise are not particularly effective for most people and the rate of obesity continues to grow world-wide.

History. In the past, weight loss drugs have gained notoriety for causing serious medical problems. Perhaps the most widely known case involved Fen-Phen, an obesity drug that caused potentially fatal heart problems and led to approximately 175,000 lawsuits.

Insurance. While some insurance policies cover weight loss treatments, others do not. In such cases, the patient is responsible for paying the full cost of the medication. Because these medications can be expensive, many patients choose not to take them.

Modest effectiveness. Although weight loss drugs can be effective, they don’t always lead to the kind of dramatic weight loss many patients desire. In fact, Forbes reports that the new drug Contrave led to a body weight loss of only 5 percent in clinical trials. This weight loss can provide significant health imporovements for obese people but does not compare with the loss of 50% to 60% excess body weight usually seen with bariatric surgery.

Will it Ever Change?

It isn’t clear whether the landscape of the obesity drug market will change in the foreseeable future. Drug companies have not yet been able to develop a weight loss medication that doesn’t come with potentially significant side effects. In addition, consumers remain frustrated with the modest effectiveness of drugs on the market. Instead of viewing weight loss medications as an aid to accompany lifestyle changes, such as exercise and an improved diet, many consumers continue to search for a “miracle” cure.

As it stands today, physicians have only a few choices when it comes to prescribing drugs for weight loss. If Contrave is approved in September, they will have one more. However, even with the addition of Contrave, options will still be limited, and consumers may still be skeptical.

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