The obesity crisis affects one in three Australian adults and is fueled by rates of chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
But now, help is at hand, with experts saying that “blockbuster” diabetes drugs could fill a big gap in the treatment of those struggling to lose weight.
Charlotte Wang has type 2 diabetes, and regular exercise and healthy eating are crucial to managing the condition.
The 25-year-old also takes Ozempic – also known as semaglutide – to lower her blood sugar levels, which has other benefits as well.
“I think the biggest change I’ve found is definitely my appetite. I’m not constantly feeling hungry,” Wang told 9News.
The drug’s weight-loss benefits are now being touted on social media, prompting people without diabetes to use the weekly pen shots and creating global shortages in the process.
The Therapeutic Goods Association has called for Ozempic to be prescribed to patients with type 2 diabetes as a priority, but admits it cannot do anything about off-label prescribing for weight loss.
More recently, a higher dose version of the drug called Wegovy has been approved in Australia for chronic weight management.
Experts say the medication and others in the pipeline will help fill a huge gap in obesity treatment when they become available, dubbing them “a game changer”.
“We are truly in an era now of new therapies that are going to change the world in terms of obesity and diabetes management,” Neale Cohen, director of the Baker Institute, told 9News.
Mounjaro, which is generically known as tirzepatide, is another more potent diabetes drug.
In obesity, a large study showed remarkable results.
“With a low dose of the drug, you get about a 15% reduction in body weight, with a higher dose of tirzepatide, you get up to 20% more,” associate professor Sarah Glastras, an endocrinologist at the Kolling Institute, told 9News. .
It works by amplifying the function of natural gut hormones, targeting two receptors instead of one.
“So if you magnify those effects, which is what the pharmaceutical industry has been doing, you get a signal to the body that you really don’t need to eat,” explained Cohen.
Experts emphasize that diet and exercise are key to any treatment plan, and medications are not without side effects.
“We’re seeing nausea rates particularly around the 10 percent mark with these drugs,” Cohen said.
The issue will be affordability, with experts calling for grants “for people who really need it” to fight obesity.
“Obesity is a chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice,” Cohen said.