The obesity crisis affects one in three Australian adults and it’s fuelled concerning rates of chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
But now, help is within reach, with experts saying “blockbuster” diabetes medications could fill a major gap in treating those who struggle to lose weight.
Charlotte Wang has type 2 diabetes, with regular exercise and healthy eating crucial to managing the disease.
The 25-year-old also takes Ozempic – otherwise known as semaglutide – to lower her blood sugar levels, which also has other benefits.
“I think the biggest change I found was 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 leading to people without diabetes using the weekly pen injections 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 can’t do anything about off-label prescribing for weight loss.
More recently a higher dose version of the drug, called Wegovy, was approved in Australia for chronic weight management.
Experts say the medication and others in the pipeline will help fill a major gap in obesity treatment when they become available, dubbing them “a game-changer”.
“We’re really in an era now of new therapies that are going to change the world in terms of obesity and diabetes management,” Baker Institute director Associate Professor Neale Cohen told 9News.
Mounjaro, which is generically known as tirzepatide, is another, more potent diabetes drug.
In obesity, a major trial showed remarkable results.
“At low dose of the medication you get about a 15 per cent body weight reduction, with a higher dose of tirzepatide you get up to 20 per cent beyond,” Associate Professor Sarah Glastras, Endocrinologist from 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 done, you get a signal to the body that you don’t really need to eat,” Cohen explained.
Experts stress that diet and exercise are fundamental to any treatment plan and the medications are not without side-effects.
“We’re seeing rates of nausea particularly say around the 10 percent mark with these drugs,” Cohen said.
The issue will be affordability, with experts calling for subsidies “for people who really need it” to combat obesity.
“Obesity is a chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice,” Cohen said.