The 2-year drugs pilot was announced by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today.
Prof Giles Yeo, Professor of Molecular Neuroendocrinology, Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science & MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, University of Cambridge, said:
“I think that making these obesity drugs more widely available is an important step. People might say the government should be fixing the causes of obesity to begin it; but in reality, they need to do both. These drugs are designed to TREAT obesity. PREVENTION will require tackling poverty and improving our diets, and that does indeed need policy change. We may well get to the point where obesity is no longer a problem, till then, the drugs are a useful tool.”
Prof Keith Frayn, Emeritus Professor of Human Metabolism, University of Oxford, said:
“Drugs to aid weight loss have been around for decades, but this new generation has proved game-changing, enabling people to reduce their body weight by clinically significant amounts without, so far as we know as yet, major side-effects. This government announcement will be good news for many people struggling with obesity, and for clinicians who struggle to cope with the tide of medical complications related to the current high prevalence of obesity.
“However, it is still a sticking plaster covering a much bigger problem. Obesity has increased enormously over the past 20 years as our environment has changed to make it impossible for many people to manage their calorie balance. The government still dithers over measures to deal with the roots of this problem. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (sugar tax) has demonstrably reduced sugar consumption. But there is unwillingness to take this further because of fears of ‘nanny state’ – or maybe of constraining the food industry. We need government action to tackle to root causes of obesity, not just drugs to deal with the consequences.”
Dr Simon Cork, Senior Lecturer in Physiology, Anglia Ruskin University, said:
“These drugs have the potential to dramatically change the field in terms of obesity management For many they will prove to be the most effective way at managing weight and sustaining significant, long term weight loss. Trials which have demonstrated the effectiveness of these drugs have only taken place in people who have severe obesity, or whose health has been impacted directly by obesity through the existence of another obesity-related condition (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes).
“Crucially the drugs were not given alone, but prescribed alongside quite intense exercise and diet regimes, which were supported by dieticians. It is not clear whether the drugs alone promote weight loss or whether they prevent weight regain.
“Making it easier for those currently eligible to access these drugs is a positive step forward for those who struggle with severe obesity, but must be done in conjunction with an increase in the availability of professionals trained in delivery of dietetic advice.
“It’s also important to note that the weight loss associated with these drugs only lasts for as long as the drug is taken. Current guidance from NICE stipulates a maximum treatment length of 2 years, after which patients should not be prescribed this drug again. This is largely due to a lack of capacity for long-term support required for these patients, highlighting the limitations within the current treatment model.
“So whilst these drugs will offer levels of weight loss not seen previously in other medications, their availability to the majority of patients who suffer from obesity and overweight is likely to be a long way off.”
Dr Duane Mellor, Registered Dietitian and Senior Lecturer, Aston Medical School, Aston University, said:
“Although this investment in weight management to support people living with obesity is welcome, it is far from the game changer the Prime Minister suggests. It would be far braver to tackle the society issues which underpin risk of living with obesity, ill health and health inequalities. As this will help a few thousand individuals, what we need is to help families and communities to lead and enjoy living healthier lives. It has been claimed that this has the potential to help people back into well paid jobs, but the same can be said about free school meals and other aspects of Henry Dimbleby’s Food Strategy which this government has chosen to ignore.
“Although semaglutide is a useful part of the toolkit which can help improve health and support people to manage weight, it alone is not the answer, which needs support of dietary change, lifestyle and behaviour change. We cannot simply as a nation buy our way out of a health issue by using a drug, we need to use the medications we have wisely and shape our society in a way that gives people the hope and ability to enjoy a healthy lifestyle no matter what their background might be.”
Prof Giles Yeo: “None.”
Prof Keith Frayn: “I have no commercial links to any relevant organisation. I am the author of a forthcoming book, The Calorie Equation, Piatkus, 2025: https://www.thebookseller.com/rights/piatkus-to-publish-mythbusting-guide-to-human-metabolism”
Dr Simon Cork: “Nothing to declare.”
Dr Duane Mellor: “No declarations of interest.”
For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.