Diabetes, Obesity, and the Promise of GLP-1 Agonists

Diabetes, Obesity, and the Promise of GLP-1 Agonists

Read time: 4 minutes

  • Obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are inextricably linked; addressing obesity with clinically safe and effective pharmaceutical interventions should positively impact rising T2D and prediabetes rates—131.4M combined nationwide.
  • GLP-1 agonists lower blood glucose and A1C levels in people with type 2 diabetes; they can also aid weight loss and improve cardiovascular health.
  • While promising, GLP-1 medications are not a magic bullet. Anyone living with or at risk for type 2 diabetes or obesity should implement diet and other lifestyle changes. Digital health solutions like One Drop can help.

Google “how to lose weight.” With only a glance, you’ll recognize several commonalities across search results—suggestions for diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes that are, for the most part, based in science and widely accepted: eat fewer calories, cut carbs, add protein, lift heavy weights, walk more, prioritize sleep, and so on. So, if we have the keys to weight loss, why is the U.S. in the troughs of a diabetes and obesity epidemic?

Today, the U.S. obesity prevalence is 41.9%—up roughly 212% since 1980. Projections indicate that by 2030, half of all Americans will have obesity. Meanwhile, more than 37 million Americans currently live with diabetes; the vast majority have type 2 diabetes (T2D), and nearly 90% are overweight or have obesity.

The Diabetes and Obesity Connection

Up to 50% of new diabetes cases in the U.S. are linked to obesity. Excess body fat contributes to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance, resulting in high levels of sugar in the bloodstream or hyperglycemia—a key indicator of diabetes. Luckily, obesity is a modifiable risk factor, meaning overweight and obese individuals can reduce their risk of T2D and its complications by losing weight. Unfortunately, for most, the task is anything but simple.

Telling Americans to “Eat Healthier” Isn’t Working

Let’s start with our food supply. As a nation, we’ve failed to make healthier, whole foods equally accessible and affordable as processed—excuse my language—crap. American favorites like potato chips, sugary beverages, sweets and desserts, refined grains, and processed meats, while lower cost and highly addictive, are nutrient-poor and associated with weight gain.

The recent update to nutrition facts labels is a step in the right direction, but until we can mandate or at least incentivize the creation and distribution of real food, most calories produced in the U.S. will remain unhealthy. More than two-thirds of the calories in the food supply are in the form of ultra-processed foods, making the chance of Americans making “good” choices slim to none.

The Promise of GLP-1 Agonists

Once reserved for private conversations between healthcare providers and patients, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists are becoming a mainstream topic—thanks to celebrities and social media trends, but more importantly, the dramatic glycemic and metabolic benefits.

The non-insulin drug mimics the effects of GLP-1, a gut-derived incretin hormone, and activates its receptors in the pancreas to increase insulin secretion, delay gastric emptying, and prevent the liver from releasing stored glucose. The result: lower blood glucose and A1C levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Newer GLP-1 agonists have also been linked to improvements in cardiovascular health and significant weight loss (>10%) in people with obesity. 

GLP-1 diagram | How GLP-1 works in the body | One Drop for diabetes

The ability to pharmacologically alter weight safely is a transformative breakthrough with the potential to counteract genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors contributing to obesity—a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Barriers to Access to GLP-1-Based Therapies

Despite mounting evidence that GLP-1 agonists are both safe and effective, use in the U.S. remains relatively low, particularly among people from racial and ethnic minority groups who face, on average, higher rates of chronic health conditions. Institutional racism, gaps in health insurance, and high out-of-pocket costs present up-front barriers to the people likely to derive the most benefit from GLP-1 agonists. And in recent months, a massive shortage has further limited availability. 

As with most aspects of traditional healthcare, there is much to do in the way of equitable access to medical services, treatments, and support. You can read One Drop’s commitment to health equity here.

There is No Magic Bullet

It’s important to remember that taking a GLP-1 agonist, especially for weight loss, requires a real, potentially lifelong commitment. That's because once the medication leaves your system, the chain reaction that triggers lower blood sugar and appetite suppressant ceases, making you susceptible to regaining weight. Therefore, when using a GLP-1 agonist like Ozempic or Wegovy, it's best to also implement lifestyle changes around food, exercise, sleep, and emotional health. 

While it's clear that pharmaceuticals are a powerful tool for people managing diabetes and obesity, they cannot be the only tool. We must take personal responsibility for our health. One Drop can help. With unlimited access to a dedicated certified diabetes care and education specialist, AI-powered insights, and personalized educational content, our digital health platform makes it easier to tackle barriers to behavior modification so you can achieve better outcomes with or without a GLP-1 medication.

Don't wait. Start your free 14-day trial today.

This article was co-written by Andrea Lagotte and clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.

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Jeff Dachis
Jan 23, 2023

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