Glucagon-like peptides (GLP-1s), a class of medications used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity, have surged in popularity. GLP-1s can help members shed pounds, but when discontinued, they point to the need for a more sustainable way to manage weight.
Related: Addressing obesity in the workplace
By combining GLP-1s with digital tools, members can get the ongoing support they need to achieve their goals. They can engage with digital lifestyle programs on their phones and wearable devices to get personalized health updates in real time. These insights can help members manage not only their weight, but also their overall health.
Health care providers have used GLP-1s to treat type 2 diabetes for nearly 20 years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the GLP-1 Saxenda® for weight management in 2014. More recently, the FDA approved another GLP-1, Wegovy®,for weight management in 2021. And in 2023, it approved the GLP-1 Zepbound.
In 2022, providers wrote more than 5 million GLP-1 prescriptions for weight management. This represents a 2000% rise in GLP-1 prescriptions for this purpose between 2019 and 2022.
GLP-1 adoption shows no sign of slowing. JPMorgan forecasted the GLP-1 market will surpass $100 billion by 2030, with the use for diabetes and for obesity driving growth equally.
Long term weight loss
It’s easy to see why GLP-1s have become so popular. The medications can bring dramatic results:
- Clinical trials showed people taking Wegovy (semaglutide) once a week for 68 weeks lost about 15% of body weight on average.
- People taking Saxenda (liraglutide) once a day for 56 weeks lost about 8% of body weight on average.
GLP-1s are on track to become even more popular as we find out what they can do, but how effective are these medications over time?
Consider a Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism study published in 2022. It found patients regained two-thirds of their prior weight within a year of stopping weekly doses of a semaglutide.
People can lose weight quickly taking GLP-1s. But that doesn’t mean they will keep the weight off. Digital lifestyle programs, especially those that provide relationship-based support, can promote healthy habits for long-term weight management.
Study: Digital health tools complement GLP-1 use
Omada Health, a digital health vendor, partnered with Express Scripts to understand the relationship between GLP-1 use and lifestyle change support.
The study analyzed claims data between October 2022 through May 2023. It focused on members participating in Omada for Prevention, a digital lifestyle program providing personalized support. These members had a baseline weight and at least one follow-up weight, checked monthly.
Participants who used Wegovy® or Saxenda® and were more engaged in Omada for Prevention lost more weight than those who used these medications and were less engaged in the program. Additionally, the study found:
- The more active members were in the digital lifestyle program, the more likely they were to lose weight.
- Relationship-based engagement drove the most success. For example, working closely with a health coach or fellow program participants.
- Other examples of program engagement include posting on peer discussion boards, completing lessons, and tracking meals, weight, and other metrics.
Although not all patients will see the same results, plan sponsors can draw lessons from these study results.
Just as GLP-1s provide an answer for short-term weight loss, digital tools can introduce the healthy habits members need for long-term success.
Digital lifestyle programs can encourage healthy eating and physical activity. This can steer members using GLP-1s toward better outcomes. It can also reduce the strain of unmanaged chronic conditions.
From the employers’ perspective, these changes can reduce the burden of lost worktime, medical costs, and other obesity-related overhead.
Digital lifestyle programs encourage healthy behaviors that keep GLP-1s from becoming “forever medications.”