The recent boon in weight-loss drugs has made food manufacturers and retailers nervous, fearing consumers will alter their eating habits and put a dent in profits. The latest weapon in the arsenal, Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is the most potent GLP-1 weight-loss drug yet.
Seventy percent of Americans are overweight or obese and many suffer from weight-related conditions. The FDA, doctors, and other experts say the new drugs should be used in conjunction with sensible eating and exercise plans.
But Adrienne Bitar, a food studies lecturer at Cornell University, offered a word of caution.
“We must be careful to heed the lessons of diet drugs of the past which, like the drugs today, promised painless, effortless, and easy weight loss,” Bitar told The Food Institute. “Even as far back as the 19th century, doctors and salesmen promoted amphetamines, laxatives, and thyroid extracts to induce weight loss – drugs we all know now are not only ineffective, but dangerous.
“In the mid-1990s, fen-phen was similarly heralded as a miracle weight-loss treatment until researchers discovered damaging and often deadly side effects.”
The active ingredient in Zepbound, tirzepatide, is the same as that found in Mounjaro, which has been on the market since May 2022 for patients with type 2 diabetes. Clinical trials of Zepbound showed weight loss comparable to bariatric surgery.
Mounjaro and similar diabetes drugs gained popularity as off-label weight-loss treatments. The FDA stamp of approval for Zepbound opens the door for insurance coverage of the expected $1,059.87 monthly cost. Wegovy, another BLP-1 weight loss drug, was approved as a weight-loss treatment earlier this year.
Both Zepbound and Wegovy slow the process of emptying the stomach after meals, allowing patients to feel fuller, longer.
“Weight loss treatments such as Zepbound and Mounjaro are a welcome solution for healthcare professionals with patients who struggle to manage their weight with lifestyle changes alone,” said Dr. Hussain Ahmad, a British practitioner.
“For patients struggling to lose weight, these medications give them a chance to make changes that can dramatically improve their lives, whether that’s their mental or physical health.”
The drugs do have side effects (mainly gastrointestinal), but the complications can be as severe as kidney failure, jaundice, and pancreatitis. There’s also the question of whether the weight loss will last.
If the pounds stay off and Americans change their eating and snacking habits, expect to see changes at the local grocery store, said Sam Vise, CEO at Optimum Retailing.
“We can expect to see grocery stores and other retailers double down on product localization and strategically place healthier products in prime store areas and in prime spots on the floorplan,” Vise said. “Just like retailers display seasonal items at the front of the store and near the checkout during certain times of the year, health-conscious products will be in high-traffic store areas as more shoppers adopt a health-conscious lifestyle.”
Vise said demographics and regional preferences will play a key role in how stores approach the issue, and those in higher-income areas will look different than those in more remote areas.
“We’ll likely see healthier products in stores across a variety of regions and as the access to weight loss drugs expands,” Vise predicted.