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WeightWatchers Aims to Start Marketing Diet Drugs

This image shows the logo of WeightWatchers on a mobile phone, and the company's website on March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
This image shows the logo of WeightWatchers on a mobile phone, and the company's website on March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
WeightWatchers Aims to Start Marketing Diet Drugs
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The company WeightWatchers recently announced it would buy a health company whose providers prescribe drugs for weight loss.

However, some experts worry about the use of drugs for weight loss. They argue the treatment does not include enough monitoring for side effects among patients.

WeightWatchers is a company that sells products and services to help people use exercise and diet to lose weight. But recently, the company said it would purchase Sequence, a telehealth company.

The deal is valued at $132 million dollars. It is the latest business deal in the market for prescription weight loss drugs. For example, famous people have supported the use of the diabetes drug Ozempic as a weight loss drug. But the drug has not been approved for that use by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. High demand for the drug has resulted in shortages.

WeightWatchers has 3.5 million members who pay for its services. With Sequence, WeightWatchers can provide members with more than just food and exercise planning services. It can offer medication.

Experts on extreme overweight, also called obesity, say the drugs will revolutionize treatment for a problem that 42 percent of Americans face.

What are the new diet drugs?

The drugs that are getting a lot of attention are a class of medications called GLP-1 agonists. Two of the most popular drugs, Ozempic and Wegovy, are different versions of the same drug, semaglutide.

Ozempic has been in use for about six years to treat type 2 diabetes. It was approved as a treatment for diabetes. But, once a drug is approved, it can be prescribed for other uses. Increasingly, doctors are prescribing Ozempic for weight loss.

Wegovy was approved in 2021 to treat obesity in adults and children older than 11. There are several similar drugs on the market.

Most of these drugs require weekly injections. The manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, said that supply problems have eased.

How do the drugs work?

The drugs activate the release of the hormone insulin and block sugar production in the body organ called the liver. The medicine also suppresses the natural desire to eat.

A newer drug called tirzepatide, copies the action of two hormones and is said to be even more effective. Eli Lilly and Co. sells the drug under the name Mounjaro. It is approved for diabetes treatment and the FDA is considering it for obesity.

How effective are the drugs?

In medical tests, obese adults who received Wegovy had a mean weight loss of about 15 percent of their body weight. Young people who took the drug lost a similar amount.

Mounjaro is still being tested. The Associated Press reports that different doses resulted in 15 to 21 percent of body weight being lost. That compared to three percent for people who received no drug at all but thought they were receiving one.

Dr. Louis Aronne is director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center in Weill Cornell Medicine based in New York City. He said a usual weight loss program involving exercise and diet will result in one third of the group losing five percent or more of body weight.

Aronne said most people find it difficult to lose weight because of reactions to eating less. Several hormones start to take effect in people who are eating less than they normally do. “There is a real physical phenomenon,” he said, that causes the body to resist losing weight.

Drugs usually have side effects, however. The most common are problems with digestion, causing stomach pain and vomiting. Other possible side effects include tumors, cancer and swelling of organs like the pancreas, kidneys, gall bladder and eye problems. People with a family history of some cancers or genetic problems with the endocrine system should not take such drugs.

Dr. Amy Rothberg is a hormone specialist at the University of Michigan. She directs an online weight control and diabetes program. She said drugs can be a part of an effort involving several weight loss methods.

But Rothberg said it is important that WeightWatchers aims to monitor patients to make sure the drugs are taken correctly and to watch for side effects.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Jonel Aleccia reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

prescribe –v. (medicine) to direct someone to take a medicine or treatment that is only available if a doctor requests it

monitoring –v. to watch for a special purpose over a period of time

hormone –n. a natural substance that is produced in the body and that influences growth, development or processes

mean –n. the middle point between two values

dose –n. the amount of a medicine needed to treat a problem or disease

phenomenon –n. something that happens that can be observed and studied

endocrine system –n. the system that sends chemical messages for many processes in the body


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