Telehealth companies offering drugs to help Americans lose weight are described by experts as predatory, taking large sums of money from desperate customers — only to prescribe prescription pills and provide little long-term support.
Dozens of online weight loss clinics have opened in recent years in response to America’s nascent obesity crisis and the expansion of telehealth clinics in the U.S., which began before the COVID-19 pandemic but boomed in its wake. These clinics distribute drugs called GLP-1, which were formulated to treat type 2 diabetes but have shown remarkable effectiveness in studies as a weight loss supplement.
While the drugs are safe and considered effective, experts worry that anyone desperate enough to lose weight could end up paying more than $1,000 each year to participate in programs created by companies like Calibrate and Found. While they do provide some coaching and exercise plans – the plans are mainly focused on medication.
They worry that these programs could mislead people with underlying chronic conditions that fuel their weight gain, and even if someone loses weight as a result of drug use, the lack of long-term support is likely to mean they’ll gain it back.
America is also currently in the midst of an obesity crisis, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that more than 40 percent of Americans are obese — with more than 70 percent overweight.
Online telehealth weight loss clinics are under fire for distributing supplements with little regard, with one expert even calling them predatory. Wegovy (pictured), an FDA-approved supplement, is the drug of choice for many of these companies
“The world of obesity and weight loss treatments and products has forever been the wild west,” Dr Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington DC, told Stat News.
“While there is a legitimate core of the field, much more surrounding it is false, nonsensical and predatory. And from what I’ve seen, a lot of these telehealth companies kind of straddle the line between the two.”
Dr Scott Kahan (pictured), director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington DC, warns that the online weight loss industry is “fake, nonsensical and predatory”.
Two companies in particular were singled out, including Calibrate, a company that guarantees customers will lose around 10 percent of their total weight through video coaching, lifestyle improvements and, of course, medication.
Calibrate charges $1,650 for its year-long program. In a statement to DailyMail.com, the company said it “doesn’t make money off drugs”.
“We make money by providing a comprehensive program combining coaching, monitoring and curriculum to help members permanently improve their metabolic health, whether they are on GLP-1 medication or not.
“Calibrate has purposefully built its program to facilitate the path to lasting drug-free results, with an approach developed in collaboration with our Clinical Advisory Board, who are world leaders in obesity medicine and metabolic health.”
Another well-known company is Found, a program that charges $149 a month for access to recipes—along with a personal health coach, health care provider, and a community of others on the same weight loss journal.
Many of these companies prescribe Wego’s recently FDA-approved GLP-1. It is believed to be a completely safe drug.
The drug is only for people who meet the definition of obese or have a BMI greater than 27 and at least one weight-related medical condition.
While Calibrate was singled out for doing some due diligence to make sure patients were eligible for the drug, Kahan described many of these firms as mere conveyor belts that dispense drugs after filling out a quick form.
RELATIONSHIP OBESITY IN AMERICA’S YOUNGEST CHILDREN
Childhood obesity rates have tripled since the 1970s, affecting one in five children in the U.S. and 14% of children between the ages of two and four, according to the CDC. Childhood obesity is now the number one health problem among US parents, surpassing drug abuse and smoking.
Obesity continues to plague more than one-third of U.S. adults, and experts have warned that this proportion will only grow with younger generations.
Over the past two decades, the United States has implemented countless education programs to try to combat the obesity epidemic.
Former first lady Michelle Obama became the mascot for healthier kids while her husband was in office and spearheaded the “Let’s Move” campaign to motivate kids to eat healthier and stay active in an effort to promote overall health.
But under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would relax the school lunch guidelines it had been pushing — requiring more fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sugar options — in favor of new rules that would allow sweetened milk and sodium-rich snacks. .
“When you create these treadmill care programs, I think that’s where you run the risk of more widespread inappropriate care or really stretching the boundaries of what’s medically appropriate,” Kahan said.
Many sketchier companies also promote themselves as providing same-day appointments and easy weight loss without the need for diet and exercise – selling patients on the idea that, along with medication, they are a healthy and effective weight loss treatment.
“Many of them.” [companies]”Unfortunately, we hold GLP-1 and give it away like candy,” says Kahan.
There are also several conflicts of interest at play. Contrave is an FDA-approved weight loss drug manufactured by Tennessee-based pharmaceutical company Currax.
The firm operates a telemedicine business that also prescribes its own weight loss drugs.
They aren’t the only telehealth firms facing scrutiny for overprescribing or misprescribing prescription drugs.
Popular online mental health clinics Cerebral and Done have faced scrutiny in recent months for distributing drugs like Adderall and Xanax.
Cerebral even faced a Justice Department subpoena for possible controlled substance abuse.
While experts blame these companies for taking advantage of needy Americans, they also point to the fact that the American health care system is to blame for the failures.
Despite obesity and mental health issues being the most talked about and publicized current issues in American health care, the nation suffers from a massive shortage of professionals who can treat these conditions.
This drives many patients in need to these online, potentially predatory platforms that sell them on dreams of a quick fix for what can be a deep-seated, intractable condition.