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Obesity, overweight rates grow but prescription rates lag for patients


‘Potential gap in clinical care’ apparent because physicians are not making medicines available to patients who need them, researchers say.

obesity dictionary definition: © Feng Yu - stock.adobe.com

© Feng Yu - stock.adobe.com

New treatment options are available for obesity, but they are not being made available to the patients who need them.

Researchers analyzed diagnoses of adult patients with obesity or overweight and compared those to prescription rates for anti-obesity medications. From 2016 to 2021, diagnosis rates and prescription rates grew, but prescription rates increased at a slower rate.

“The number of people with obesity is high and rising in the adult U.S. population,” Kyrian Ezendu, PhD, said in a news release. Ezendu is an Eli Lilly and Co. adviser on benefit-risk research.

“Obesity is a complex and expensive disease that has been implicated in many chronic conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases,” Ezendu said. “Medications to treat obesity are an integral part of long-term care for people with excess weight and are recommended for people with obesity or people with overweight and at least one obesity-related condition.”

The findings were presented June 17 at ENDO 2023, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

The researchers studied data for patients aged 18 to 80 years, with figures based on electronic health records and insurance claims. There were about 1.6 million to 2.2 million adults with overweight or obesity and eligible for medications including phentermine-topiramate, lorcaserin, orlistat, naltrexone-bupropion, liraglutide and semaglutide.

Diagnosis rates overall increased, but lagged when considering only insurance claims. For example, the obesity diagnosis rate based on electronic health records and claims increased from 39.4% in 2016 to 57.2% in 2021, but diagnosis rates from insurance claims alone were only 33.5% in 2016 and 47.3% in 2021, according to the researchers.

The overweight diagnosis rate grew from 18.1% in 2016 to 31.2% in 2021 based on both sources, but based on insurance claims, the rate was 15.4% in 2016 and 29.2% in 2021, according to the study.

As for prescriptions, the rates grew from 0.4% in 2016 to 0.6% in 2021. The researchers noted prescription and fill rates doubled for liraglutide, from 0.1% to 0.2%, and quadrupled for semaglutide, from .01% to 0.4%. But overall prescription rates were low, 0.4% to 0.5% for the anti-obesity medications in the study period.

“This research demonstrates a potential gap in clinical care for people with obesity and overweight,” Ezendu said in the news release. “Proper documentation of the clinical diagnosis may facilitate guideline-based treatment of obesity and overweight, particularly with the availability of several FDA-approved medications for use as an adjunct to lifestyle changes in managing obesity or overweight.”

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