Courtesy of University at Buffalo

There’s a lot happening in the weight loss industry, and some of it has the potential to bring much-needed change for about 42% of Americans who are battling obesity. Ozempic, berberine, and Wegovy are all the rage. Jenny Craig closed in May after four decades in business, and Weight Watchers (now WW) purchased the telehealth and weight loss platform Sequence.

“This is a very important moment for the field of weight management,” says Katherine Balantenkin, PhD, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at University of Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Balantenkin hopes that many who have needed treatment will now be able to get it. There is a high demand for the diabetes prescription drug Ozempic for its effectiveness as a weight loss drug, especially among celebrities who have been tweeting about it. Another drug, semaglutide, an injection marketed as Wegovy, and another marketed as Mounjaro, are also popular.

These evidence-based medications are, “Fantastic additions to our obesity treatment toolbox,” says Balantekin, who studies eating behavior in individuals with obesity, eating disorders, childhood obesity, and parent influences on eating behaviors. Balantekin warns however, about the importance of patients being overseen by physicians to monitor them for adverse side effects and eating disorders. She also points out that access to care is a problem, as there aren’t enough of these drugs available, and also they are not yet routinely covered by insurance for weight loss. Balantekin says these medications should not be viewed as the sole solution for obesity and overweight, but as adjuncts to managing behavioral obesity, noting that they are helpful for addressing the biological causes of obesity. “These medications help drown out this ‘food noise,’ allowing people to focus on engaging in healthy habits learned as part of behavioral obesity management.”

Blantekin co-authored a commentary in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in which researchers urged health practitioners to do away with outdated approaches to treating overweight and obese individuals. She said we should be striving to improve access to compassionate, evidence-based and patient-centered care to fight weight stigma and end diet culture, emphasizing health rather than weight.

Despite the fact that medications like Ozempic and Wegovy are in the headlines daily, Balantekin says they are not a fad. She says, “Scientists have been working on these medications for many years. I think that certain companies, like WW, are rooted in the science, and thus change as our evidence changes. As such, it makes sense that these companies need to grow — for example, WW acquiring Sequence — when new treatment components come on the market, like the anti-obesity medications.”

But then there’s berberine, a dietary supplement extracted from plants that has become a darling of some TikTok users who call it “nature’s Ozempic.” Is it really effective, though, in inducing weight loss? Balantekin cautions against taking any supplements for weight loss because they are not well regulated. “Moreover, unlike the anti-obesity medications, we do not have data supporting berberine’s efficacy.”