How do weight loss drugs impact a diet industry focused on reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity?

How do weight loss drugs impact a diet industry focused on reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity?

How do weight loss drugs impact a diet industry focused on reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity?

Ever since college, Brad Jobling struggled with his weight, fluctuating between a low of 155 pounds when he was in his 30s to as high as 220. He spent a decade tracking calories on WeightWatchers, but the pounds he dropped always crept back onto his 5-foot-5-inch frame. A little over a year ago, the 58-year-old Manhattan resident went on a new weight loss drug called Wegovy. He’s lost 30 pounds, and has started eating healthier food and exercising — the habits behind many commercial diet plans and decades of conventional wisdom on sustainable weight loss.

Yet Jobling’s experience also has altered his perspective on dieting. He now sees obesity as a disease that requires medical intervention, not just behavioral changes. In fact, he thinks he will need to stay on a drug like Wegovy for the rest of his life even though it has taken some of the joy out of eating. “I don’t see how you can maintain (the weight) without medication,” Jobling said. “Obviously, it’s all about self-control. But I think it’s less of a struggle to really maintain healthy eating when you got that assistance.”

Like the lives of the people taking them, recent injected drugs like Wegovy and its predecessor, the diabetes medication Ozempic, are reshaping the U.S. health and fitness industries. They have proven successful in eliminating unwanted pounds more quickly and easily than consuming fewer and burning more calories alone. Such is their disruptive power that even established diet companies like WeightWatchers and brands like Lean Cuisine are getting makeovers.

Although celebrities like Oprah Winfrey have spoken publicly of the drugs as revolutionary, some health experts worry that businesses without any expertise will start dispensing the prescription medications along with bad advice and unproven therapies. At least 3 million prescriptions for the class of medications known as GLP-1 agonists were issued each month in the U.S. during the 12 months that ended in March, according to data from health technology company IQVIA.

The world’s leading diet programs have taken note of such statistics and incorporated the popular drugs into their existing subscription plans. WeightWatchers acquired telehealth provider Sequence, enabling members to get prescriptions for weight loss drugs. The Mayo Clinic Diet program also has expanded to include access to weight loss drugs and advice on managing any side effects. The new drugs have made being very overweight “feel more medical as a condition,” according to experts.

Luxury athletic club operator Life Time launched a membership program last year that offers comprehensive medical testing, personalized training, and a host of alternative therapies like cryotherapy. Members can also get weight loss drugs through medical staff at a clinic. Fitness chains are banking on the idea people on the drugs will lose enough weight to overcome any self-consciousness or physical limits that kept them from exercising. The gym franchise Equinox started a new personal training program in January for prescription-holders who want to preserve or build muscle mass as they shed unwanted pounds.

The world of drug-assisted weight loss is also altering the ambitions of food companies. Sales of SlimFast have dropped as people turn to weight loss drugs. Companies like Glanbia and Nestle SA are marketing their products as a source of adequate nutrients for people taking GLP-1s. Research has shown promising results in weight loss with these medications, but experts are concerned about businesses marketing the drugs or serving as fitness coaches for patients on the medications. It remains to be seen how many patients will stick with their drug regimens due to side effects and cost.

Lisa Donahey, 54, an actress and singer who lives in Los Angeles, started Mounjaro under a doctor’s care a year ago to address her Type 2 diabetes. Having used the medication to give her “a kick-start,” she plans to wean herself off Mounjaro once she loses another 40 pounds. “I had a sense of hopelessness that I was destined to be this way and just could not do it by myself,” she said. “Now, with my weight being managed and the new version of ‘me’ is emerging, I just feel so empowered, excited and hopeful.”

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