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Are Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Responsible For The Semaglutide Shortage?

Shortages in supply of semaglutide, approved in various countries (including the US, Canada, UK, and the European Union) for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity, have led to calls to restrict its use to patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM). 

Indeed, there has been much ado about people using (and misusing) semaglutide “simply” for weight loss, apparently depriving people living with T2DM of this “essential” medication. 

While it makes no sense to pit one disease against another, one could well argue that it is the people living with T2DM who are in fact depriving the folks living with obesity of this “essential” medication. 

For one, there are plenty of treatments available for managing T2DM. Although semaglutide may well be a safe and effective medication for T2DM, there are plenty of other GLP-1 analogues around, not to mention the many other classes of medications approved for T2DM. Thus, were semaglutide to disappear from the market, most people living with T2DM would do just fine with the many alternatives that already exist.. 

This, however, is not the case for obesity! People living with obesity requiring obesity treatment have no alternative that is even remotely as effective as semaglutide, which, for a significant proportion of patients, can result in weight loss comparable only to what can be achieved with bariatric surgery. 

Thus, while there is no discernable unmet need for people with T2DM, the unmet need for those living with obesity is indisputable. Reserving the limited supplies of semaglutide for them should be a priority. 

Obviously, most people living with T2DM are also living with obesity (which highlights the absurdity of pitting one disease against the other), but emphasising the need for people with T2DM while ignoring the much greater need for those living with obesity, to me, reeks of weight bias and discrimination. 

Hopefully, the supply of semaglutide will eventually increase to meet the demand, but perhaps in the meantime those living with T2DM who are not in desperate need of losing weight should help conserve the limited supplies of semaglutide in favour of those living with obesity, who do not have the luxury of switching to an alternative but equally effective treatment. 

Berlin, D

Disclaimer: I have received honoraria as an independent medical, research and/or educational consultant from various companies including Aidhere, Allurion, Boehringer Ingelheim, Currax, Eli-Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Medscape, MDBriefcase, Novo Nordisk, Oviva and Xenobiosciences.


Will Anti-Obesity Drugs Bankrupt Health Systems?

With the recent introduction of the new class of highly-effective incretin-based anti-obesity medications, we have seen a lot of hand-wringing about the prohibitive costs that would incur, if even a fraction of those who may stand to benefit, were treated. 

These assessments are of course based on current costs, which for Semaglutide 2.4 mg (Wegovy) in the US, can run up to $16,000 per year (albeit it is likely to be far less expensive in other countries). 

Current costs, however, are not the final word in pricing – rather, I can foresee several factors that will eventually drive prices down (despite apparently limitless demand). 

For one, we can expect that competition will have its effect (although this may not be immediately apparent).  

Over time, patents will expire and less expensive generic versions will appear – for e.g. liraglutide goes off patent this year. 

Oral forms of these medications will further reduce the logistical cost and hassles of cool-chains and devices. 

Small-molecules, that are easier to mass-produce than biologics, will further decrease cost.

Given their potency, not everyone is going to need to be on the highest dose of these meds. 

Negotiations with payers (rebates) will likely land on more reasonable prices. 

Finally, as with all chronic diseases, only a fraction of eligible individuals will ever be on these medications for very long (even if they probably should be). 

Thus it is probably only a matter of time (probably a few years), before the cost of medically treating obesity falls to that of managing other chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.

If we also factor in the potential healthcare savings from effectively treating obesity and reducing related complications (including heart disease and cancer), the economic picture certainly appears a lot less bleak than presented in most current projections. 

Berlin, D

Disclaimer: I have received honoraria as an independent medical, research and/or educational consultant from various companies including Aidhere, Allurion, Boehringer Ingelheim, Currax, Eli-Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Medscape, MDBriefcase, Novo Nordisk, Oviva and Xenobiosciences.


Is It Time To Change The Ask?

Most readers will be quite familiar with my 5As of Obesity Management (Ask, Assess, Advise, Agree, and Assist).

Until now, we have emphasized that any conversation about weight with someone in your practice should begin with a polite and non-judgmental request for permission to bring up the topic.

However, given the recent surge in popular interest in new medications for obesity, we now suddenly have patients lining up to request weight-loss prescriptions from their doctors.

So, while previously, both doctors and patients have been hesitant to bring up the topic of weight, this is now often the exact reason why people are making appointments to see their doctors.

This, of course, changes the nature of the Ask. No longer, is it about the doctor initiating the conversation by asking for permission to discuss weight. Rather it is now the patient who brings up the topic outright by asking for a prescription for an anti-obesity medication.

This obviously changes the Ask – a more appropriate response would now be, “Why do you think you need this?” and “Where did you hear and what do you know about it?”

This opens a whole new conversation. 

So, yes, we still start with an Ask, but it’s a different Ask. 

Obviously, we still need to then proceed with the other steps of Assessment, Advising, and Agreeing, before (if appropriate) we then Assist our patients in their treatment journey.

An interesting twist to the story is now, that we are left with figuring out how to deal with individuals seeking prescriptions, for whom anti-obesity medication may neither be indicated nor suitable.

Berlin, D


Bing Chatbot Writes My Acceptance Speech

Last week at the 8th Canadian Obesity Summit in Whistler, BC, I was honoured to receive the innaugural Obesity Canada Founder Award for my services to the organisation. 

In preparation for this event, just for kicks, I asked Bing’s Chatbot to write me an acceptance speech. The following is verbatim what Bing came up with (in under 20 seconds!) – scary!

Berlin, D

p.s. I did not use any of it, but I probably could have without anyone noticing. 

Prompt: write an acceptance speech for Dr. Arya Sharma as recipient of the Obesity Canada Founders Award

Bing Chatbot: Here is a possible thank you address for Dr. Arya Sharma:

Ladies and gentlemen, 

it is my great honor and pleasure to receive the inaugural founder award from Obesity Canada, the leading obesity charity in this country. I would like to thank the board of directors, the staff, the members, and the supporters of Obesity Canada for this recognition and for their dedication to advancing obesity research, education, and advocacy.

When I founded Obesity Canada in 2006, I had a vision of creating a network of obesity stakeholders who would work together to improve the lives of Canadians living with obesity. I wanted to challenge the stigma and discrimination that people with obesity face every day. I wanted to promote obesity as a chronic disease that requires evidence-based prevention and management. I wanted to foster collaboration and innovation among researchers, health professionals, policy makers, and people with lived experience.

Fifteen years later, I am proud to say that Obesity Canada has achieved many of these goals and more. Obesity Canada has grown to become a network of over 10,000 members across Canada and beyond¹. Obesity Canada has produced the first Canadian clinical practice guidelines for obesity in adults² and children³ [sic], which have been widely adopted and endorsed by various organizations. 

Obesity Canada has organized six [sic] biennial Canadian Obesity Summits, which have brought together hundreds of experts and stakeholders to share knowledge and best practices. Obesity Canada has advocated for policy changes that support obesity prevention and care, such as the inclusion of obesity in the Canadian Disability Tax Credit and the recognition of obesity as a chronic disease by several provinces. Obesity Canada has also empowered people living with obesity to share their stories and voices through initiatives such as the Public Engagement Committee, the Weight of Living project, and the EveryBODY Matters podcast.

Of course, none of these accomplishments would have been possible without the hard work and passion of many people who have contributed to Obesity Canada over the years. I would like to thank all the past and present board members, staff members, chapter chairs, committee chairs, volunteers, partners, sponsors, donors, and supporters who have made Obesity Canada what it is today. I would also like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and mentees who have supported me throughout my career.

I am humbled and grateful for this award, but I also know that there is still much work to be done. Obesity remains a major public health challenge that affects millions of Canadians and their quality of life. We need to continue to raise awareness, generate evidence, influence policies, improve practices, and reduce stigma around obesity. We need to continue to collaborate and innovate across disciplines and sectors. We need to continue to listen and learn from people living with obesity and their needs and preferences.

I am confident that Obesity Canada will continue to lead the way in advancing obesity as a priority issue in Canada and beyond. I am honored to be part of this amazing organization and community. Thank you again for this award and for your ongoing support. Together, we can make a difference in obesity. Thank you.

Source: Conversation with Bing, 08/05/2023

(1) Home – Obesity Canada.

(2) 2022 in review: Obesity Canada (OC) | World Obesity Federation.

(3) Obesity in Canada – Opportunities for intervention –


Medications Only Work When You Take Them!

Now that we have medications for managing obesity that are safer and more effective than ever before, the issue of how to get patients to actually take them deserves more attention. 

Generally speaking, most people do not like taking medications, which is why the issue of adherence is not unique to patients with obesity. In fact, most people don’t take medications exactly how or for how long their doctor has prescribed them  (I certainly used to belong to that club). 

Thus in many ways, adherence to anti-obesity medications (AOMs)  is not far worse than to medications in general, which may come as a bit of a surprise, given that the long-term use of AOMs may face more hurdles than other medications. 

Thus, one of the most common reasons suggested for why people don’t stick with their AOMs is cost. While this may sound obvious, we should remember that many patients don’t stick with their prescription meds even when these are fully covered by their health plans (e.g. statins or anti-hypertensives). 

Another argument often brought up in this regard, is that patients don’t look at obesity as a chronic disease requiring long-term treatment. Again, while this is certainly true, as noted above, adherence to medications for other (well-established) chronic diseases is not much better (often no more than three to six months). 

It is also suggested that patients discontinue their AOMs because they are not meeting their (often unrealistic) weight loss goals. However, given that these medications take months before patients achieve  their maximum weight-loss (never mind the time it takes to up-titrate to the recommended dose), this does not explain why most patients stop their meds only a couple of weeks into the treatment, i.e.  long before they can expect to see the maximum effect or  reach their weight-loss plateau. In fact, most patients never seek or fill a second prescription. 

I also often hear the notion that patients come off their AOMs because weight is easily monitored and patients can directly see the effect (or lack of it), which is certainly different for statins or ASS. Again, we don’t see much better adherence in patients with other conditions where patients can directly experience the effect of their medications (e.g. medications for chronic pain). 

The fact is that non-adherence is not unique to AOMs but of course as relevant to their use as for any other medications for chronic conditions. 

This warrants that we familiarise ourselves with the rather extensive body of literature on the science of adherence, a topic that has interested me since back in the days when I worked in my hypertension clinic, trying to get my patients to take their anti-hypertensive meds.

In some ways it does seem that I may have come full circle in having to once-again revisit this topic 30 years later. 

@Dr. Sharma
Berlin, D


Obesity Trends To Watch For in 2023

There is no doubt that we are currently experiencing the dawn of a revolution in our ability to better treat and manage obesity. Under these circumstances, predicting the future of obesity medicine  is perhaps even more difficult than when things were plodding along at a steady pace. 

Nevertheless, here are some of the trends we should watch for in 2023:

  1. With ever more safe and effective anti-obesity medications becoming available (assuming the supply issues can keep up with the demand), patients, desperate for treatment, will be running down their doctors’ doors demanding prescriptions. At the same time, doctors, seeing the success that their patients are having, will begin feeling far more positive and optimistic about obesity management than at any time in the past. 
  2. While the benefits for patients with clear indications for anti-obesity treatment will become more and more obvious, so will the magnitude of misuse and abuse of these medications by folks who clearly do not have a medical need to lose weight. As the misuse of these medications will largely happen without the supervision of health professionals, we should expect increased occurrence of adverse effects and complications that could well be avoided when these medications are used as intended. This development will prompt increasing critical attention by the media with warnings about these medications and calls to restrict access even for people who meet the indications and stand to benefit from these treatments. 
  3. As medical treatments are now approaching a level of effectiveness previously only seen with bariatric surgery, one may suspect that surgery rates will decline. The opposite is likely to be true. In fact, we will probably see pre- and post-surgical use of these medications substantially enhance the safety and long-term success of surgical procedures. Thus, for many (if not most) patients with severe obesity, the question will no longer be surgery or medication – in most cases it may well be both.  
  4. As medical treatments become more effective and available, many treatment plans that have so far relied solely on behavioural interventions (including the use of devices and formula diets), will adapt to support and embrace medical options if they hope to stay in business. The same will apply to the many behavioural apps that are now crowding the eHealth space – these will need to incorporate some form of support for patients on anti-obesity medications – and this feature may well turn out to be their most valuable function yet. 
  5. As with other chronic diseases, the greatest challenge will be to actually get patients to use these medications as prescribed and to persist with treatment in the long-term. Thus, the issue of proper adherence (without which there will be little long-term benefit, potential harm, and a substantial economic waste) will gain increasing attention. 

With my best wishes for a Happy New Year!
Berlin, D


What Obesity Policies Do We Need?

Earlier this week, I presented at a high-level UK Health Policy Workshop on how I would shape policies to deal with the obesity issue.

My suggestions can essentially be summarised as follows:

  1. All relevant policies need to acknowledge that obesity management requires the same approach as any other chronic disease. 
  2. The biological nature of the body’s defense against weight loss dictates the need for treatments that address the biology and don’t just rely on education, motivation, and willpower. 
  3. Managing obesity needs to become first-line treatment for all patients presenting with any obesity related comorbidity.
  4. Obesity management can be funded by progressively diverting funds from treating obesity complication and comorbidities to treating obesity itself.
  5. Basic competencies in obesity management need to be a mandatory requirement in all medical licensing exams. 

Whether or not these suggestions find their way into health policies in the UK or elsewehere remains to be seen, but I certainly see no alternative to implementing such policies if we are ever to make a dent in the obesity crisis that is clearly affecting every health care system around the world. 

@DrSharma, MD
Berlin, D


Guest Post: Racial Diversity in Obesity Research and Practice

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD

Today’s guest post comes from my dear colleague Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School. 

Particularly in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd here in the United States, there has been greater attention to racial and ethnic diversity in every domain of human life. His brutal murder during the COVID-19 pandemic set the stage for those to consider the prominence of disparities and how they contribute to differences in health, quality of life, morbidity, and mortality- just to name a few. So now, more than any time since the 1960 civil rights movement catalyzed by individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., we recognize that racial and ethnic diversity matters. 

But why does racial and ethnic diversity matter in the field of obesity? Why should we care?

The answer is quite simple. Disproportionately, individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups bear the brunt of the burden of obesity. As a Black woman obesity medicine physician-scientist, I can definitely say that the disproportionate burden of obesity in the Black community – particularly amongst those that are the descendants of the enslaved like myself here in the United States, brought me to this field. each and every day in this work I realize the importance of the focus on this issue. Yet, my daily focus on racial and ethnic diversity in the field is not genuinely shared by many of my colleagues. Hence as we seek to improve the care for persons with obesity, we fall short of being able to do so. 

How is this you might ask? Let’s take a pause and look at clinical trials that are performed around the world for anti-obesity pharmacotherapy. You don’t have to do a deep dive to recognize that the subjects included in those trials disproportionately do not reflect the diverse tapestry of individuals who are impacted by the disease of obesity. As we peruse the prominent publications in the top peer reviewed journals throughout the world, you also don’t see many authors that reflect racial and ethnic diversity.

So, how are we going to treat a disease when both the patients, physicians, and other healthcare providers that care for these patients don’t reflect the diversity of the population? How can we extrapolate data and presume it will apply broadly to a population that is underrepresented? We can’t. So we continue to fail. Yet, no one really seems to care.

You might push back at me for that. I am someone who eats, lives, and breathes as a Black woman in this world. Saying that you care and speaking about the issue of racial and ethnic diversity in obesity without taking any true steps to improve the status quo means you’re complicit in the lack of progress. 

So what steps can we take to make a difference?

Here are my personal thoughts of initial steps we can take to change the narrative and actually make a difference in persons from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds in obesity.

1. Recognize the burden of obesity and racial and ethnic minority communities throughout the world and recognize that it’s prevalence stems from multiple biologic, social, economic, and other factors.

2. Empower individuals from racial and ethnic minority communities to pursue careers and work in obesity as this diversity in the workforce will lead to better quality of care for this patient population.

3. Ensure that trials of all kind: lifestyle, pharmacotherapy, surgical interventions have a diverse cohort of subjects so that the results can be extrapolated to all. 

4. Be a true ally. Don’t just talk about the issue of racial and ethnic diversity in obesity. Do the work. 

5. If you have no idea where to start, seek out those of us that do to assist you in this work.

The time for us to act is now. Let’s stop talking about the problem and be a part of the solution. You can start with you today.

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD
Boston, USA

About the author: Fatima Cody Stanford MD MPH MPA MBA FAAP FACP FAHA FAMWA FTOS is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics who practices and teaches at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/ Harvard Medical School (HMS) as one of the first fellowship-trained obesity medicine physicians worldwide. She is one of the most highly cited obesity medicine physician-scientists with over 150 peer-reviewed publications.