New York—Obesity is a well-established major risk factor for developing diabetes, with almost 90% of people living with type 2 diabetes having obesity or being overweight. Yet according to a new study, healthcare providers rarely prescribe medication for obesity, especially compared to diabetes treatment.

The research, published recently in the journal Obesity, reveals that antidiabetes medications are prescribed 15 times more often than those for obesity. Background information in the article points out that six antiobesity medications are now approved by the FDA for treating obesity when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.

Yet only 2% of the eligible 46% of the U.S. adult population is receiving those medications, point out study authors led by Weill Medical College of Cornell University researchers.

“Given the close tie between obesity and type 2 diabetes, treating obesity should be an obvious first step for healthcare providers to prevent and treat diabetes,” noted lead author Catherine E. Thomas, MS. “By treating obesity, we may be able to decrease the number of patients with type 2 diabetes, among other related diseases, and the medications used to treat them.”

The study describes several barriers to obesity treatment, including lack of reimbursement for healthcare providers, limited time during office visits, lack of training in counseling, and competing demands, among others.

“A greater urgency in the treatment of obesity—on the part of clinicians and patients—is essential,” Thomas emphasized in an Obesity Society press release. “We're talking about prolonged and better quality of life for patients.”

For the study, the researchers performed a retrospective analysis of 2012-2015 data from the IMS Health National Prescription Audit and Xponent databases to examine prescribing trends for antidiabetes and antiobesity medications.

Results indicate that, for antiobesity medications, phentermine had 74% of the market share, followed by 18% for new antiobesity pharmacotherapies. The mean increase in prescriptions per month was 25,259 for the newest antidiabetes drugs, subtype 2 sodium-glucose transport protein inhibitors (SGLT2s), 5,154 for new antiobesity pharmacotherapies, and 2,718 for phentermine.

The study reports that medical specialties prescribing the majority of the analysis medications were in family medicine, general practice, or internal medicine. On the other hand, endocrinology had the highest prevalence of prescribers of any subspecialty.

“By comparing the adoption rate of new anti-obesity medications to the considerably faster rate for new diabetes medications, this new research provides an important snapshot of the problem,” writes Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of ConscienHealth, in a commentary accompanying the research.

Dr. Kyle suggests future research should seek to better quantify the benefit of obesity medications in real clinical settings as measured by patient outcomes.

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