Weight loss drugs not a solution to rising obesity rates: WHO researchers

There are now more than 1 billion people are now classified as 'obese' worldwide, according to a March 1 update from the World Health Organization. But the rise of anti-obesity medications like Ozempic and Mounjaro should not be considered a solution, experts say.

The findings come from new research published Feb. 29 in The Lancet. For the study, researchers analyzed data from 3,663 population-based studies with 222 million participants that used BMI metrics, taking into account height and weight of the general population across 200 countries between 1990 and 2022. 

Obesity rates have more than doubled among U.S. adults since 1990, and these rates have quadrupled in children, according to the study. While the new drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro are now more accessible obesity treatments for some patients, they aren't the solution to the overarching problem, experts say.

"These drugs are definitely an important tool, but they should not be seen as a solution to the problem," Francesco Branca, PhD, MD, director of the department of nutrition and food safety at the WHO and co-author of the study, told Bloomberg. "The solution is still the transformation of food systems and the environment."

The drugs are also unlikely to make a big impact in obesity rates or prevalence overall.

"New pharmacological treatment of obesity, although promising, is likely to have a low impact globally in the short-term, due to high cost and the absence of generalizable clinical guidelines," the researchers wrote. 

Since the age of onset for obesity has also decreased, which lengthens the duration of risk for the condition, the study's authors underscore that the data calls for additional preventive and management measures to be prioritized for public health.

"[T]here is an urgent need for obesity prevention, supporting weight loss and reducing disease risk (via treatment of the mediators of its hazards, such as hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia) in those with obesity," the researchers wrote. "Most efforts to prevent obesity have focused on individual behaviors or isolated changes to the built or food environment. These have had little impact on obesity prevalence, in part because healthy foods and participating in sports and other active lifestyles are not accessible or affordable for people with low income and autonomy."

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