GLP-1 Weight Loss Drugs in the News, Again

The latest news about the GLP-1 weight-loss drugs looks at how the latest developments can potentially both positively and negatively affect consumers and businesses. Let’s take a look at several recent headlines to glimpse at what’s happening in the world of weight loss meds.

North Carolina won’t cover GLP-1 weight-loss drugs for its state employees

The North Carolina state employee health plan is discontinuing coverage for expensive GLP-1 weight-loss drugs like Wegovy and Zepbound due to their high cost. The decision, made by the plan’s board of trustees, comes as the drugs have become increasingly popular among members, costing the plan $102 million in 2023 alone.

This decision is expected to be the first major state health plan to cease coverage for these drugs. Despite concerns about the affordability of the drugs for members, especially considering the state’s economic ties to the manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, the board has decided to end coverage entirely, except for current users who will be grandfathered in.

This move is projected to save costs for the plan, but it also means losing a substantial rebate from the drug’s manufacturer. Other states, like Texas and Connecticut, have also grappled with the high costs of these weight-loss medications, with some implementing restrictions or prior authorization procedures to manage their use.

Unsurprisingly, the manufacturers are not amused. As Ars Technica reported a couple of days ago,

A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk called the vote to end coverage entirely “irresponsible,” according to a statement given to media. “We do not support insurers or bureaucrats inserting their judgment in these medically driven decisions,” the statement continued.”

Ars Technica’s Senior Health Reporter Dr. Beth Mole also quotes Sam Watts, director of the North Carolina State Health Plan, who told Bloomberg:

Every state has been wrestling with it, every professional association that my staff is a part of has had some discussion about it… But to our knowledge, we’re the first major state health plan to act on it.

Why is this important?

We’d say for three reasons. First, because people still want them, despite potentially serious side effects and sticker-shock prices. Second, this could be seen as a trend, for lack of a better description, that other states might follow.

The third reason is a downright dangerous one. As Reuters reported just two days ago, The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning about global shortages of popular diabetes medications used for weight loss, such as Ozempic, leading to a rise in suspected counterfeit versions.

These fake drugs, primarily distributed through unregulated outlets including social media platforms, pose serious health risks due to potential lack of efficacy and contamination. Instances of dangerously low blood sugar and hypoglycemia have been reported in those who took suspected fake versions of these medications.

The high demand for these drugs, coupled with manufacturing constraints, has led to shortages in the U.S. market, exacerbating the issue of counterfeit drugs. The WHO emphasizes the importance of obtaining medicines from authorized and regulated suppliers to ensure patient safety. Not only all patients are at risk should they choose to (or unknowingly) buy counterfeit, “but the increased circulation of fake versions was likely to have a disproportionate effect on patients with type 2 diabetes.”

The rise in GLP-1 prescriptions can also influence commercial real estate

Say what? Bear with us. Last week, CoStar, a commercial real estate information outlet, reported that the increasing popularity of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic could have significant implications for commercial property demand, according to Anton Pil, an executive at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

With potentially millions of users in the United States, the rise in GLP-1 prescriptions could influence consumer behavior and impact real estate decisions. Pil said:

While there’s no guarantee the popularity of the drug will grow or that any behavioral changes will be long-lasting or widespread, spending patterns already are changing for people who are taking GLP-1s, according to anonymous data from 95 million J.P. Morgan Chase Bank customers… broke down the four ways the drugs’ increased use and popularity could influence commercial real estate, and it makes sense. Here goes:

Decline in fast-food sales: Weight-loss-drug users may reduce spending on fast food by about 85 percent, prompting questions about how fast-food restaurants can adapt their offerings, which could impact real-estate footprints.

Drop in alcohol sales: Individuals on these drugs might make a 60-70 percent reduction in their alcohol consumption, impacting liquor retailers.

Shift in snack and soda preferences: Spending on snacks may decrease by 80 percent, and soda consumption may drop by 70 percent, potentially leading to increased spending at alternative venues like juice bars.

Increased demand for fitness and apparel space: A shift towards a healthier lifestyle post GLP-1 usage could result in higher demand for spaces such as gyms, spa and beauty retailers, and apparel stores as consumers seek to support their new lifestyle.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Blockbuster weight-loss drugs slashed from NC state plan over ballooning costs,” Ars, 1/29/24
Source: “Rise in reports of fake weight-loss drugs linked to shortage of real thing, WHO says,”, 1/29/24
Source: “Four Ways the Rise of Ozempic Could Shift Real Estate Investments,” CoStar, 1/22/24
Source: “Weight-loss drugs could reshape commercial real estate,”, 1/27/24
Image by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

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Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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