University at Buffalo expert Katherine Balantekin discusses impact of Wegovy clinical trial

Findings should also help address health disparities and perceptions about anti-obesity medications, says nutrition expert Katherine Balantekin

Release Date: August 11, 2023

Katherine Balantekin.

Katherine Balantekin

“With this news, we should (hopefully) see a huge shift in insurance coverage for these important anti-obesity medications. ”
Katherine Balantekin, assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences
University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions

BUFFALO, N.Y. - On Aug. 8, it was announced that a clinical trial of the new obesity drug, Wegovy, cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 20%. The trial was the first to demonstrate that the drug could also improve patients’ cardiovascular health. With over 100 million people in the United States affected by obesity, the treatment could help address some of the most significant and costly afflictions.

Katherine Balantekin, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, is an obesity treatment expert who can discuss how anti-obesity prescription medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy can help individuals achieve a healthier weight.

She believes that the recent news that Semaglutide (sold under the brand names of Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus) reduced the number of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular-related deaths in those with obesity is groundbreaking, particularly since this news comes from a population without diabetes and thus not at the highest risk for cardiovascular events. The study’s findings will also put pressure on insurance companies to include these types of drugs in patients’ coverage, she says.

Below, Balantekin addresses the impact of these trial results.

What was your initial reaction to the results of the new clinical trial?

This shows us that not only is the drug effective at treating obesity, but it also has potential for a large impact on cardiovascular-related events. This is not only revolutionary for these medications but also provides important data for recognizing the potential seriousness of obesity.

How will these results impact the insurance industry?

With this news, we should (hopefully) see a huge shift in insurance coverage for these important anti-obesity medications. Currently, insurance companies are denying coverage for these medications, which then forces patients to pay out of pocket, which has led to huge health equity issues and disparities in who can take these medications.

How easy (or difficult) is it for Americans to obtain Wegovy and similar drugs right now?

Not easy. There are many supply issues right now and most patients cannot afford the medications since insurers are denying claims.

What other benefits do you see as a positive result of this announcement?

I am also hopeful that this news will help strengthen the message that obesity is not caused by lack of willpower, but is multifactorial and driven by biology. One important note is that given that these medications lead to weight loss by reducing appetite which reduces food intake, it is critical that individuals who take anti-obesity medications work with a registered dietitian or similar health care professional to ensure that diet quality is sufficient to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

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