Are Drugs the Future of the Weight Loss Business?
Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro are all the rage, and Weight Watchers is in.
Welcome, everyone, to the latest debate. Drugs developed for diabetes are poised to go mainstream for weight loss, as the company behind Weight Watchers this week announced it's buying a company that helps people get prescriptions. So are these drugs the bright future of the weight loss business? Or is this another unhealthy fad? Jon Fortt is here to … well, weigh in.
“We say that every time, but this time … wait for it … it's a pun. This is an unhealthy fad, not the future of the weight loss business.
It kicked into a higher gear this week when WW International, the Weight Watchers parent, announced it's buying Weekend Health, a two-year-old company whose Sequence program helps members access dieticians, fitness coaches, and yes, drugs for weight loss. So what's the problem? On the surface, nothing. Diabetes drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro have spiked in popularity over the last few months as some doctors began prescribing them for obesity. One of the main methods the drugs use to work is suppressing appetite, so far without the dangerous side effects that fen-phen showed 30 years ago. But. Sequence membership costs $99 per month, compared to $23 for Weight Watchers — and that doesn't include the cost of the drugs, which run about $900 per month without insurance. It's like plastic surgery in the form of an injection, except you have to keep taking the drugs to maintain the results. For a culture that's addicted to image, these drugs are like crack. They'll compound a mental health crisis and create a new type of biological moral hazard. Businesses should beware.”
Obesity is a crisis on its own, though. If science can help people, why shouldn't businesses make the product available?
“On the other hand, these drugs are the future of the weight loss business — part of it.
Yes, there are dangers. They can be abused. But does that mean we shouldn't have OxyContin, or Xanax, or Ritalin? Fortunately, there's a good chance Weight Watchers is going about this the right way, because the company's brand has roots in community, nutrition and exercise. But look, they didn't have a choice. Their most profitable potential members in this next generation were going to be lured by the trendy methods — the obesity drugs — and if Weight Watchers didn't have a way to access them, the brand would slide into irrelevance. Look, the competition was already on the attack. Noom, a wellness competitor, months ago launched a program called Noom Clinical that offers some users access to these GLP-1 drugs. Is the cost a problem? Yes, it is. Working-class families and especially those without great insurance benefits are going to have a hard time getting access to a potentially valuable component of a healthy weight loss regimen. But that's not new. Access to fresh produce and quality healthcare is already a problem for too many Americans. If businesses can help more people achieve a healthy weight with this innovation, it's a step in the right direction.”
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What do you think? Which side do you find more convincing, and why? Watch how it played out on Squawk Box below: