The Accessibility of Anti-Obesity Medications for Black Men

The Accessibility of Anti-Obesity Medications for Black Men

Overcoming obesity is difficult in itself, but it disproportionately impacts the black community in particular. Obesity is prevalent in 41.1% of African American men compared to 57% of women, rates that are higher than the global average. Historically, African Americans find it harder to lose weight than their Caucasian counterparts. In a Journal of Physical Activity and Health study, white participants lost an average of 8.74 kilograms compared to 5.63 kilograms for black participants over eighteen months despite following an identical diet and exercise program. Different social and cultural factors influence these results, which we’ll dive into later. Still, the advent of modern weight loss medications is positioning itself as a weight loss equalizer, leveling the playing field for those with biological barriers to sustained weight loss. The question is, are these medications sufficiently accessible for the men in our community?

Weight loss medications explained

Weight loss medications come in various forms and mechanisms of action, but the most well-known by far are glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists like Saxenda and Wegovy. These medications activate the GLP-1 receptors, which make you feel full for longer and minimize thoughts of food. Lowered cravings can result in reduced caloric intake, leading to weight loss. When evaluating whether Saxenda vs Wegovy is suitable for an individual, a healthcare provider will consider medical history, insurance coverage, and patient preference. These medications are potentially available for eligible people through medically supervised weight loss programs. But another primary concern is accessibility, mainly as increasing demand for these medications drives international shortages, making it even harder for black men to secure them.

Barriers to entry for black men

Black men already face significantly higher health risks, not just for obesity but for obesity-related conditions. They are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white men. According to the Office of Minority Health, African American adults are 30% more likely to have high blood pressure. Finally, black men carry a 70% higher risk of heart failure compared to white men. Despite these glaring differences, Epic Research data reports that white people are four times more likely to get a prescription for weight loss medications than African Americans. With out-of-pocket costs for GLP-1s going as high as $1,300 monthly, insurance coverage for these medications is essential. However, black men are 75% less likely to have insurance coverage than white men. 

Secondly, black men are less likely to receive routine medical care that would alert them to obesity-related conditions that necessitate treatment in the first place. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of black Americans say they’ve had to speak up to receive proper care or are treated less respectfully than other patients. When asked about the top reason for their generally worse health outcomes, 63% mentioned “less access to quality medical care,” while 52% cited “environmental problems” in their communities. Communities of color are already disproportionately affected by “food deserts,” or areas where it is difficult to obtain affordable, healthy food. Black communities are also exposed to 56% more pollution, which can result in reduced physical activity and increased stress levels, leading to increased obesity rates. While Wegovy manufacturer Novo Nordisk is courting prominent black leaders to reverse a twenty-year Medicare ban for weight loss drugs, it could still be long before equitable access is achieved.

Addressing weight management

In terms of managing weight, much needs to change in terms of the support black men receive from the healthcare system at large. In the meantime, finding a community or role model to keep you accountable can go a long way. As we mention in our “5 Amazing Tips for Creating a Healthier Lifestyle” post, those with more support tend to have better success rates. This can mean speaking with a personal coach or friend group who can help you with lifestyle changes to address obesity. This also means having a transparent and assertive conversation with your healthcare provider about how to manage your obesity, whether that may need medications or not. The first step to staying on top of your health is taking the initiative—and using the resources you have to get qualified advice, sustained support, and improved health outcomes.

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