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News Article

Chronic Obesity Treatment Gains FDA Approval

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 06/14/2021 - 14:50

The FDA approved an injection-form treatment for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight who have at least one weight related condition, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or high cholesterol. The treatment could support millions of people in Mexico and abroad dealing with obesity and related diseases.

Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide), which had previously been approved by the FDA for the treatment of diabetes type 2, has been repurposed to fight obesity alongside a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity. Wegovy is “indicated for chronic weight management in patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 kg/m2 or greater who have at least one weight-related ailment or in patients with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater,” explains the FDA.

Mexico is one of the countries that could benefit the most from this type of treatments, as the country has been dealing with an obesity epidemic since 2016. With 72.5 percent of its adults living with obesity or overweight, the country has the highest obesity rate in Latin America and the OECD.

Obesity has many health, social and economic implications for patients and health systems. For individuals, obesity is linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hyperglycemia. It is also associated with high blood pressure, dyslipidemias, osteoarticular diseases, sleep apnea and certain types of cancer including breast, prostate and colon. Obesity has led to a four-year reduction of life expectancy in Mexico. Socially, obesity is a cause of stigma and is associated with lower labor income, especially among women. As a result, the indirect effects of obesity and its comorbidities, as well as their effects, lead to an increase in demand of health services.  

Obesity costs Mexico 5.3 percent of its GDP, according to the OECD. In 2017, the Ministry of Health estimated that MX$240 billion (US$12 billion) were allocated to treat obesity that year and a 2023 projection indicated expenditure could increase by 13 percent.

Mexico on Preventing Obesity

“Obesity is a very complex disease that appears simple,” Carlos López, Director General of Medix told MBN. “People say, ‘do not eat; go and exercise.’ However, there are genetic, psychological, social, cultural and environmental factors in play that make it a much bigger challenge.” Current awareness campaigns from the government or the private sector have not sufficiently addressed those factors, explains López.

López warns that obesity and weight control treatments must be personalized in order to be truly effective. “We also have a long way to go to providing adequate treatment. Effective treatment requires time and knowledge of the patient, which means it will not work if it is not personalized.”

In Mexico, socioeconomic factors also play a big role for this disease. While Wegovy indicates it should be taken alongside a healthy diet, getting one in Mexico is not straightforward. “There is a wide availability of low-price products with high levels of sugars and calories. People are choosing to buy unhealthy food items over healthier meals, such as salads,” said López.

To fight obesity, Mexico recently increased taxes for high-calorie foods and introduced a new labelling system that warns consumers of the presence of high calories, sugars, sodium and damaging chemicals in their foods and beverages. The impact of these measures is yet to be determined.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst