July 14, 2024

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Big fat gold rush: Record number of doctors apply to become obesity specialists who can make up to $700,000 a year – as Americans clamor for weight-loss drugs

4 min read

A record number of doctors applied to be certified to treat obesity this year amid the soaring popularity of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

Nearly 1,900 doctors signed up for the annual exam this October, the medical board behind the test said, which was a 50 percent increase compared to the previous year.

Passing the exam distinguishes doctors as competent in treating obese patients and could set them on A path to rake in higher salaries.

It comes after official data showed a record 40 percent of adults are now obese in three states — West Virginia, Louisiana and Oklahoma — while every state had seen a rise in rates compared to just a decade ago.

Weight loss drug prescriptions have surged in the US with five million written last year, up 2,000 percent in 2019. 

The above graph shows the number of doctors who signed up to take the exam by year

The above graph shows the number of doctors who signed up to take the exam by year

The above map shows the obesity rate by US state in the year 2022, the latest that data is available. The data was revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday

The above map shows the obesity rate by US state in the year 2022, the latest that data is available. The data was revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday

Analysts suggest this market will be worth $56billion by 2030, with doctors who have specialized in obesity medicine likely able to charge more to patients. 

Data from the American Board of Obesity Medicine revealed a record number of doctors had signed up to take the exam this year.

Back in 2012 — when the accreditation scheme was set up — barely 200 doctors applied.

Healthcare workers do not need the obesity certificate in order to treat obese patients, but it can make them more competent in caring for the patients. 

It can also serve as a stepping stone to doctors signing up for further training as bariatric surgeons — or a doctor who has specialized in performing weight loss surgeries such as a gastric bypass.

This would require another one to two years of training on top of the initial four required to become a doctor plus the three-to-seven-year residency.

Bariatric doctors earn about $450,000 per year on average, statistics suggest, compared to $412,000 for general surgeons. In some cases, they can be paid upward of $700,000.

The ABOM says doctors are expected to become certified by them in order to become a bariatric surgeon. 

Modules taught to doctors in the course look at the causes of the disease and how to help patients lose weight through diet changes and exercise.

They may also be taught about ‘pharmacotherapy’ for helping patients reduce their waistlines, which may include being taught about popular weight-loss drugs.

Dr Kimberly Gudzune, the medical director for the ABOM, told Insider: ‘As there’s more awareness of both obesity as a chronic disease and all of the effective treatment options, patients are coming into their physicians and saying: “I want to be treated”.

‘And I think that that is oftentimes the trigger for a lot of busy practitioners to say, “I really need to know how to do this”.’

She added: ‘We’re working to address that gap [on obesity knowledge among doctors].

‘But it does take time, and I think that the growth does speak to us working in that direction.’

It comes amid soaring demand for weight loss drugs like Ozempic (pictured) and Wegovy

It comes amid soaring demand for weight loss drugs like Ozempic (pictured) and Wegovy

The above data shows the situation from the previous year. A majority of US states saw their obesity rates rise compared to previous years

The above data shows the situation from the previous year. A majority of US states saw their obesity rates rise compared to previous years

The US obesity rate has taken off compared to a decade ago, when no states had an obesity rate above 35 percent. The CDC says it is an 'urgent priority' to tackle the nation's growing waistline

The US obesity rate has taken off compared to a decade ago, when no states had an obesity rate above 35 percent. The CDC says it is an ‘urgent priority’ to tackle the nation’s growing waistline

There are more than one million doctors in the US, of which nearly 7,000 — or 0.007 percent — have the board certification to treat obesity.

The specialization is not needed in order to be allowed to treat obese patients, but it will give doctors advanced knowledge.

As well as their busy schedules, doctors will also need to complete at least 30 hours of lectures and another 30 of studying before taking the exam.

A gold rush is currently on among pharmaceutical giants to tap into the nascent weight-loss medications market.

Novo Nordisk — which is behind semaglutide used in Wegovy and Ozempic — raked in a record $5.5billion last year after investing in factories to manufacture the drug in the United States.

It is also behind a number of drugs for diabetes patients and some medicines for hemophilia patients.

Eli Lilly has also cashed in on the market with its obesity treatment tirzepatide, projected to make $48billion once approved.

Pfizer — which made billions with its Covid vaccine — is also developing its own class of weight-loss drugs in order to access the market.

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