Obesity Experts Rake in Big Pharma Dollars

Pills and money
Pills and money | Image by Cagkan Sayin/Shutterstock

Medical professionals specializing in obesity have been making millions of dollars as a result of Big Pharma’s race to develop weight loss drugs.

An investigative report by Reuters revealed that Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, had paid obesity experts approximately $25.8 million between 2013 and 2022 throughout the development and promotion of its weight loss drugs, Ozempic and Wegovy.

For instance, Dr. Lee Kaplan, widely regarded as the leading U.S. authority on obesity, received $1.4 million from Novo Nordisk for consultation and travel fees. He is also a staunch supporter of treating obesity — one of the most critical public health issues faced by Americans today — with GLP-1 weight loss drugs.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, this class of medications, originally developed to manage blood glucose levels in diabetes patients, has come to be viewed as a game-changer in the field of weight loss, generating huge sales.

GLP-1 weight loss drugs work by imitating GLP-1, a hormone normally released when food is consumed. The drug effectively slows the passage of food through the digestive tract and curbs appetite.

When Kaplan spoke at a Cambridge conference held as part of his annual obesity course for physicians in June, he told attendees that obesity had to be treated seriously, even if it meant through lifelong drug consumption.

“We are going to have to use these medications for as long as the body wants to have obesity,” he told the roughly 400 conference attendees, according to Reuters.

At a time when obesity rates are on the rise, many individuals are looking to lose weight and reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes, with some turning to appetite-suppressing medications or restrictive diets, as reported by The Dallas Express.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area ranks No.26 on WalletHub’s list of most overweight cities in the United States in 2023.

Texas has the eighth-highest rate of childhood obesity in the United States, with 20.3% of children ages 10-17 classified as obese in 2019-20, more than 4% over the national rate of 16.2% for the same period, according to a State of Childhood Obesity report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

While yielding positive results in terms of weight loss, GLP-1 weight loss drugs come at a premium cost, with Americans paying as much as $1,300 a month for weekly injections of Wegovy. As The Dallas Express reported, the drugs have also allegedly caused some undesirable side effects, some cosmetic — such as “Ozempic butt/face” — and others far more serious — such as stomach paralysis, as one lawsuit claimed.

Kaplan insists that his profiting from the blockbuster weight loss drugs does not discredit his approval of them as a medical professional.

“I don’t kowtow to the companies,” Kaplan claimed. “If I can’t defend what I’m doing as being both appropriate and ethical, then I shouldn’t be doing it.”

Moreover, another speaker at the June conference in Cambridge, Dr. Donna Ryan, former president of The Obesity Society, touted weight loss drugs as the only effective way to treat the chronic disease of obesity. Novo Nordisk also paid her roughly $1 million. She has spearheaded initiatives to see the medications covered by government and private insurers.

“There is nothing wrong with money,” Ryan said. “Look, we give a Nobel prize in economics, right? So money can really help. It can help promote good in the world.”

Money is also fueling Big Pharma’s race to develop new weight-loss medications. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly’s Zepbound was the latest GLP-1 drug to hit the market last month, with federal regulators approving it for weight loss, as covered by The Dallas Express.

Trials showed that 1 in 3 obese subjects taking the highest dose of Zepbound (15 mg) lost over 58 pounds or 25% of their body weight over a period of 72 weeks.

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