We have an obesity epidemic in America, and it’s only getting bigger by the day. According to the CDC, over 40 percent of Americans are considered obese, and over 70 percent of us are overweight.
And with the continuous rise in visceral fat, businesses are popping up in droves that claim to help the overweight lighten up. Weight loss startups like Found or Calibrate boldly make claims like “the last weight loss program you’ll try,” but offer little evidence for the assertion. These startups aim to couple weight loss drugs called GLP-1 agonists with behavior change counseling to support their customers.
But that’s not actually what’s happening.
Over 100,000 patients have signed up for these types of programs over the past couple of years. So the demand for weight loss is certainly there. Unfortunately, however, these startups don’t seem to be the answer.
Patients complain about the lack of support from the doctors, and even lack of access to the drugs they were promised. I would also question the marketing claims that make it seem like this weight loss and behavior change will be “easy.”
Are drugs really the answer to the obesity epidemic in America?
For some conditions, medications are the best option to help overweight or obese patients start losing weight. The caveat here is that these medications have to be used in conjunction with diet and lifestyle changes. Lack of support in behavior change makes it really hard to be successful on your own.
The director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Scott Busch, says that “obesity is a complex disease that requires treatments that match its complexity.” For some patients that have tried other methods of weight loss (even the fad diets that rarely work longterm), medication could be the support their bodies need to lose a healthy amount of weight.
The startup conundrum
There is clearly interest and need for specialized support for weight loss for the overweight and obese population. Venture capitalists raised over $200 million to fund startups looking to bridge the gap between patients and the support they need to lose weight in a healthy way. However, the issue likely stems from Dr. Busch’s statement about the complexity of obesity. There is no one way to treat obesity. It is entirely possible that these startups were unprepared for the need for diversity in their programs.
There is also the issue of the marketed convenience of these weight loss drugs. Have you ever tried to change a deeply rooted habit? It can feel nearly impossible to do. Now take something like nutrition, one of the most complicated and nuanced topics, and try to change a habit without any support or accountability. Inconceivable!
The only way for these startups to really succeed is to refocus on the support they are giving to the current patients with which they are working. Access to weight loss drugs is important, yes; but even more important is the coaching and accountability to help make real and long-lasting changes to their health.