About 41.9% of the adult U.S. population struggles with obesity. When it comes to employer-sponsored health insurance, part of the problem is that obesity often isn’t viewed as a chronic condition, one healthcare executive said.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” said Parin Chikani, medical account director for managed markets at Novo Nordisk. He made these comments Tuesday during a panel at the Midwest Business Group on Health conference in Chicago.
He added that a challenge for employers is that when they examine solutions for obesity, they frequently look for weight loss treatment rather than weight management treatment.
“The difference between those two is weight loss is a transaction,” Chikani stated. “It’s kind of one and done. Summer is around the corner, I want to get into my bathing suit. I’ve got a wedding in a couple of months, I want to get into my tuxedo. Once I’ve reached that weight, I’m done. I’ve reached my goal. We’ve all seen this yo-yo effect of weight loss.”
Another challenge is then implementing “effective and sustainable” weight management programs for employees, Chikani said. He recommended going to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists for clinical national guidelines on how to manage obesity, including areas like nutrition and behavioral health.
But he added that there is a subset of individuals for whom these guidelines are not going to work on their own. This group needs access to FDA approved anti-obesity medications in conjunction with lifestyle changes. This includes drugs like tirzepatide. In addition, employers should provide access to surgical intervention, or bariatric surgery, for those who need it, Chikani said.
Ultimately, however, these efforts are going to benefit from partnership.
“The low hanging fruit is evaluating what you have today, comparing that to the national playbook or the clinical evidence guidelines that are out there,” he said. “And then working with your partners like the [pharmacy benefit managers]pharma manufacturers to figure out how we can bridge some of that gap in an effective, sustainable manner.”
Another panelist — Tara Sherman, mental health and wellbeing strategy leader at The Boeing Company — echoed Chikani’s comments and said that it’s important to recognize that obesity goes beyond lifestyle. The company has introduced weight management programs for its employees and is also covering GLP-1 drugs, which help with weight loss.
“For years, we’ve said ‘Eat less, move more. It’s that simple,’” Sherman said. “The bottom line is for a lot of people, it’s just not.”
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