New anti-obesity drugs approved, but still out of reach for many Black Americans
By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO Contributing Editor,
A new class of weight loss medications are bringing hope to the more than 70 percent of Americans who are classified as medically overweight (BMI = 25-29.9) or obese (BMI = 30 or greater).
The obesity rate of Black Americans clocking in at the highest among U.S. ethnic groups, according to the National Institutes of Health, many are hoping for help in shedding stubborn excess weight.
Zepbound, just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is the latest of a series of what the medical field has named GLP-1 medications. The drug has been approved for use as a weight loss treatment for overweight or obese adults with at least one other associated health condition. Manufactured by Eli Lilly, the drug is currently prescribed for diabetes patients under the name Monjouro.
Zepbound, will be available by the end of this year and joins Wegovy, approved by the FDA for weight loss in 2022, as a new medically prescribed agent in the battle for weight loss.
Both medications are injectable and promise patients can lose a significant percentage of body weight with continued use of the product.
Physicians like Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, want to make sure potential patients connect with a skilled medical provider and stay away from other sources. Counterfeit versions of the new GLP weight loss drugs have been reported nationwide.
“These medications should only be administered by those with experience in prescribing these agents,” Cody Stanford said.
She advises patients to talk with their physician about side effects of the medication, including nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea on the mild side and more significant and even life threatening health complications documented in rare cases.
The drugs are not for everyone, Cody Stanford says, but for many Black Americans who have struggled with the disease of obesity, she allows that the new GLP-1 medications could be a game changer.
“The FDA has placed these agents under rigorous testing to determine their safety for the population at large. They can be a useful tool for those with the chronic disease of obesity, and they can particularly be a useful tool with racial and ethnic minority populations, who disproportionately have higher rates of obesity,” Cody Stanford told the AFRO.
Cody Stanford, is one of America’s foremost authorities on obesity. She was one of the first physicians to classify obesity as a chronic disease, rather than a lifestyle or behavioral choice of the person living with obesity.
Discussion of the new GLP-1 medications to treat weight loss, public policy and the Black community began heating up this summer when Congress introduced The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2023, in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation would allow Medicare to pay for weight-loss drugs including the new GLP-1 medications.
At this fall’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation meeting in Washington D.C., Cody Stanford participated in a panel discussing the need for the new obesity drugs, sponsored by Wegovy’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk.
Wegovy has a list price exceeding $1,300 a month without medical coverage. Zepbound’s press release boasts that it is available at a lower cost than Wegovy, but still lists at more than $1,000 for a one month supply, without insurance.
According to Eli Lilly’s press release, Zepbound will be introducing a savings card allowing eligible users to pay as little as $25 for a one month or three month prescription, but those savings are temporary.
Roland Martin, Roland Martin Unfiltered, devoted a March 2023 show to the topic “Obesity in America” sponsored by Novo Nordisk.
Tiffani Bell Washington, Board certified physician specializing in Adult Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Lifestyle Medicine and Obesity Medicine, spoke directly to the issue of Medicare coverage for the new obesity medications on Martin’s show.
“Medicare is not covering these anti-obese medications,” Bell Washington said. “Many years ago they thought obesity was a lifestyle problem.” she said.
“But the problem is beyond that. It’s a health issue so it really does need to be covered and if Medicare covers it usually other people follow,” Bell Washington said.
Supporters of Medicare coverage of weight loss drugs defend pushing Congress to support Medicare coverage of the new GLP-1 drugs.
“The bipartisan Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, would help seniors who suffer from obesity gain Medicare coverage and access to vital medications and behavioral therapies that would help them live a healthier and longer life,” said Congressman Paul Ruiz, (D-CA-25) an emergency room physician who introduced the legislation this summer.