Telehealth, which offers drugs to help overweight and obese Americans lose weight, has been described by experts as predatory because they take large sums of money from desperate customers — only to prescribe them prescription pills and provide them with little long-term support.
Dozens of online weight loss clinics have opened in recent years in response to both America’s nascent obesity crisis and the expansion of telehealth clinics in the US that began before the COVID-19 pandemic but boomed as a result. These clinics distribute drugs called GLP-1s, which are formulated to control type 2 diabetes but have shown remarkable effectiveness as a weight loss supplement in studies.
While the drugs are safe and considered effective, experts fear that these online clinics actually serve as pill factories. Anyone desperate enough can spend more than $1,000 each year to participate in programs set up by companies like Calibrate and Found. While they offer some coaching and training plans, the plans are mainly centered around the pills.
They fear 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 taking the drugs, the lack of long-term support likely means they will 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 weight loss telehealth clinics are under fire for distributing supplements with little attention, with one expert even describing them as 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 always been a wild west,” said Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight & Wellness in Washington DC. Stat News.
“While there is a legitimate core of the field, much more around it is fake and nonsense and predatory. And a lot of these telehealth companies, from what I’ve seen, kind of walk in between them.’
dr. Scott Kahan (pictured), director of the National Center for Weight & Wellness in Washington DC, warns that the online weight loss industry is ‘phony and bullshit and predatory’
Two companies in particular were highlighted, including Calibrate, a company that guarantees customers will lose approximately 10 percent of their total weight through video coaching, lifestyle tweaks and, of course, medication.
Calibrate charges $1,650 for its one-year program. The company did not immediately respond to a request from DailyMail.com for comment.
Another company that was noted has found a program that charges $149 a month for access to the prescriptions — in addition to a personal health coach, a medical provider, and a community of others in the same weight loss journal.
Many of these companies prescribe Wegovy, a GLP-1 recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is believed to be a completely safe drug to use.
The drug should only be used by people who meet the definition of obesity or have a BMI greater than 27 and at least one weight-related health condition.
While Calibrate was highlighted for doing some due diligence to ensure patients were eligible for the drug, Kahan described many of these companies as just conveyor belts dispensing drugs after filling out a quick form.
OBESITY RISES IN AMERICA’S YOUNGEST CHILDREN
Childhood obesity has 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 CDC data. Childhood obesity is now the biggest parental health problem in the US, with increased drug abuse and smoking.
Obesity continues to afflict more than a third of adults in the US, and experts have warned that share will only grow as younger generations do.
Over the past two decades, the US has implemented numerous awareness programs to combat the obesity epidemic.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama became a mascot for healthier kids while her husband was in office, leading the “Let’s Move” campaign, designed to motivate kids to eat healthier and stay active in an effort to promote overall health.
But under Trump’s administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would relax the guidelines for school lunches it championed — more fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sugar food options — in favor of new rules that would allow sweetened milk and sodium-rich entrees. .
“If you do these conveyor belt treatment programs, I think you’re more at risk of inappropriate care, or you’re really pushing the boundaries of what’s medically appropriate,” Kahan said.
Many more sketchy companies are also advertising themselves with same-day appointments and easy weight loss without the need for diet and exercise — selling patients the idea that drugs are a healthy and effective treatment for weight loss.
‘A lot of these’ [companies]unfortunately, keep the GLP-1s up and hand them out like candy,” said Kahan.
There are also a few conflicts of interest at play. Contrave is an FDA-approved weight loss drug manufactured by the Tennessee-based pharmaceutical company Currax.
The company runs a telemedicine company that also prescribes its own weight-loss drugs.
These are not the only telehealth companies under scrutiny for over- or mis-prescribing prescription drugs.
Popular online mental health clinics Cerebral and Done have both come under scrutiny in recent months for their distribution of drugs such as Adderall and Xanax.
Cerebral even faced a Justice Department subpoena for alleged misuse of the controlled substances.
While experts blame these companies for taking advantage of needy Americans, they also point to failures in American health care.
Despite obesity and mental health issues being the most talked about, publicized, current issues in American health, the country suffers from massive shortages of professionals who can treat the conditions.
This is pushing many patients in need to these online, potentially predatory platforms that sell them on dreams of a quick fix for what can be a deeply entrenched hard-to-solve condition.