How Whole-Person Care Can Complement GLP-1s for Obesity

Obesity is a complex chronic disease commonly defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of ≥30 kg/m2 and abnormal or excessive accumulation of body fat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42.4% of all adults in the United States are obese, and globally, 650 million people are affected by obesity. 

Obesity not only poses significant health risks but also has a substantial economic burden. It’s estimated that the cost of obesity among U.S. full-time employees is about $73.1 billion. To put this in perspective, this amount is equivalent to employing 1.8 million workers per year at a salary of $42,000 each.

Misconceptions about the disease contribute to the problem, making it hard for people to access effective treatments. People generally assume obesity is the result of simply eating too much and being sedentary; however, there are many other contributing factors that may have just as much, if not more, of an influence on obesity (for example, genetics, certain medications, other medical conditions, sleep habits etc). It’s not just a matter of eating healthier and moving more. It’s a complex disease that requires a multi-faceted, personalized, and long-term approach.

GLP-1s have recently emerged as a promising tool to help people experiencing obesity. In addition to pharmaceuticals, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications are recommended as wraparound treatment for obesity. Whole-person interventions provide a comprehensive treatment plan that, especially when provided early in the course of the disease, could help increase the effectiveness of GLP-1s, mitigate side effects, and possibly avoid the need for these altogether. For benefits professionals and employers, understanding whole-person care is critical as it is an important tool to control costs in the long-term. 

The Impact of Obesity

Employers are increasingly burdened with the associated healthcare costs as the incidence of obesity continues to rise. One major contributor to the economic burden associated with obesity is the increased risk of comorbidities, (i.e., having more than one medical condition). Individuals with comorbid conditions require more complex treatments, and that can mean more time spent visiting healthcare providers, often reducing time at work.

Obesity is primarily linked with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, but it’s also correlated with heart disease and some cancers. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 indicates that “...44% of global cases of diabetes, 23% of ischemic heart diseases and 7 to 41% of certain cancers are attributable to overweight and obesity”. 

People with obesity are also more likely to experience depression and face weight bias and discrimination, which can lead to higher stress levels and an increased likelihood of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and addiction. 

Absenteeism as a result of obesity costs the U.S. approximately $8.65 billion per year. Individuals with obesity are more prone to taking sick days, experiencing workplace injuries, and encountering stigma or discrimination, which can adversely affect job satisfaction, productivity, and attendance.

Employee Benefits & GLP-1s

Effective workplace benefits programs support the responsible use of medications like GLP-1s and also prioritze personalized care that optimizes behavioral factors important for weight management. 

Understanding GLP-1s

GLP-1s (Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 receptor agonist medications) represent a promising class of drugs for obesity treatment. Drugs within this category, such as Ozempic, Byetta, and Wegovy, work by mimicking GLP-1, a naturally occurring hormone that plays many roles in the body, including stimulating insulin release and promoting satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating).

While lifestyle modifications alone may suffice for some individuals with obesity, others may require medication like GLP-1s to achieve significant weight loss and improve health outcomes. As such, GLP-1s are one part of the treatment equation. They are expensive, and in order to achieve the full benefits of the medication, psychological and behavioral interventions are essential. 

These interventions can include tailored nutrition guidance, exploration of enjoyable and realistic physical activities with a certified coach, a comprehensive review of current medications to identify medications that may be contributing to weight dysregulation, and curated solutions to optimize sleep and reduce stress. 

The Role of Whole-Person Care in Obesity Management

Whole-person care, also known as integrative care, provides a comprehensive approach to healthcare that addresses an individual's mental, physical, emotional, and social needs. 

Like many chronic conditions, there are a variety of factors that contribute to obesity, including lifestyle habits, mental health, and socioeconomic status, to name a few. So, why should we treat it in just one way?

For example, a diet that minimizes added sugars and processed foods, and encourages whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a commonly prescribed diet for people trying to manage obesity. However, it’s an incomplete recommendation that doesn’t address other potential contributing factors.

Whole-person care attempts to address all of the obstacles an individual faces to making healthy changes to their behavior, incorporated into a comprehensive and sustainable treatment plan. Whole-person care asks, “what are the barriers for this person when it comes to establishing a healthy diet?” 

Maybe there’s a challenge with being able to afford or access higher quality food items in the individual's neighborhood. Or maybe, the issue is more related to mental health. What coping strategies does this individual have other than food? Are poor sleep habits contributing to a reduced ability to make healthy food choices?

It’s important to understand an individual's experience in order to define an actionable path forward. Goals related to weight management will (and should!) look a lot different for someone who struggles with access to healthy foods than for someone who has difficulty with their emotional relationship to food.

Benefits of Implementing Whole-Person Care in the Workplace

Employers can reap numerous benefits from integrating whole-person care interventions into their benefits strategy. Because obesity is associated with an increased risk of comorbidities, employers offering whole-person care interventions can help their employees solve multiple problems at once, leading to improved overall health.

Whole-person care works alongside therapeutic interventions to drive patient outcomes. Integrative care can maximize the beneficial effects of GLP-1s and help to mitigate side effects of the treatment, like muscle mass loss. Additionally, particularly when provided early, whole-person care could eliminate the need for a GLP-1.

By addressing all of the modifiable factors that contribute to obesity and empowering people to make lasting behavioral changes, whole-person care can lead to long-term improvements in health and well-being, and therefore, reduced healthcare costs.

Whole-Person Care for Metabolic Health at Goodpath

Goodpath is a whole-person healthcare benefit that addresses other common conditions associated with obesity: metabolic diseases, back or joint pain, mental health issues, cancer survivorship, sleep issues, and digestive problems.

Nothing is cookie-cutter about Goodpath. Each member receives an entirely different program based on their unique needs and history. Their program consists of targeted physical items that are shipped to them, evidence-based digital treatments, and a dedicated health coach trained to help people make behavioral changes, available to them any time via chat or video call.

Nine out of ten Goodpath members improve their health across all conditions and severities, and these health improvements have been shown to reduce disability incidence and medical claims.

For individuals with obesity and other conditions, healthcare can be complicated. Goodpath simplifies it.

Key Takeaways

  • Obesity is costly for employers due to its strong association with comorbidities, impact on employee absenteeism, and productivity.

  • A novel drug class, GLP-1s, has recently emerged as a promising treatment for obesity. Whole-person care can combine a drug regimen with lifestyle interventions to provide a more effective long-term outcome, or help individuals avoid medication altogether.

  • Whole-person care is a holistic approach that not only addresses physical health, but also the mental, emotional, and social factors which contribute to obesity.

To learn more about Goodpath’s whole-person approach and request a demo for your organization, please visit our site.