More Americans On Ozempic Means Smaller Plates At Thanksgiving
People on weight-loss drugs are less fixated on the turkey and trimmings. This could mean trouble for food companies.
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Thanksgiving this year will look very different for Julissa Alcantar-Martinez and her family.
The Houston-area realtor has been taking the appetite suppressing medication Mounjaro for one-and-a-half years following fifteen months on Ozempic. She has lost 115 pounds after years of struggles with dieting and diet-related disease. Her son, 17, has lost 65 pounds on Ozempic, and her 21-year-old daughter has lost 50 on it.
While the family is eating very differently now, they will still celebrate America’s feasting day with the traditional turkey and fixings. As the host, Alcantar-Martinez says she’ll still make the sweet potato and green bean casseroles, but she doesn’t expect to eat much of them and will send the leftovers home with her parents. “Before, I might have kept some,” she said. This year, “I’ll keep the protein.”
Millions of Americans are now taking appetite suppressing GLP-1 hormone injections, and for many this will be their first Thanksgiving on the drug.
Food manufacturers and retailers — who normally enjoy robust sales during the holiday feasting season — are bracing for an impact that could extend far beyond one or two holidays. Walmart Inc. said in October that its shoppers taking weight-loss drugs were buying slightly less food. Steve Cahillane, the chief executive officer of Kellanova, maker of Pringles and Cheez-Its, told Bloomberg the company was studying the impact on dietary behaviors to be able to respond. Shares of Krispy Kreme Inc. were downgraded last month on concerns weight-loss drugs would reduce demand for their doughnuts.
Jamie Centner is a good example of why some food companies are worried. The Louisiana middle school teacher is taking a weight-loss drug, and said her three sons have noticed that there are fewer snacks in the house now that she’s stopped making impulse purchases at the supermarket.
She hosts Thanksgiving for about thirteen people every year. She used to spend weeks planning her menu, but that’s just not where her mind is now.
“I don’t think about food as much, things don’t sound as good,” she said. “A lot less mental effort goes into tracking down all the best recipes.”
Nevertheless, Centner said she will still make all the traditional dishes, and she’s even planning on skipping her injection that week to make sure she can enjoy herself.
Prescriptions of the GLP-1 drugs skyrocketed 300% from 2020 to 2022, and the supercharged growth appears to be only the beginning of their sweep across America as companies search for even more uses for them. The category includes Novo Nordisk A/S’s Ozempic, originally used as a diabetes treatment, and Wegovy, as well as Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Mounjaro and its Zepbound, which got approved for weight-loss earlier this month.
The drugs signal the brain to pump the brakes on appetite — even cutting out thoughts about food — making them weight-loss miracle drugs for many of the people taking them.
“They’ll go into Thanksgiving dinner and won’t be enticed in the same way,” said Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician scientist at Harvard Medical School. “It’s unconscious.”
Yet these drugs are not silver bullets for weight loss, said Stacey McCoy, a pharmacist in the health division of information services company Wolters Kluwer. Side effects, like nausea, can keep some patients from continuing with the regimen — it is the top reason people stop taking the drug, according to data from Eureka Health.
“I’d like to see our patients get more credit for sticking through the side effects and the work they’re doing, teaching themselves to eat smaller portions, taking that walk after Thanksgiving dinner,” McCoy said.
The drugs don’t work for everyone. And the huge costs — obesity drug Wegovy retails for $1,349 a month — are another impediment and were cited recently by a TD Cowen analyst as a reason the impact may end up being overstated.
Holiday With a Smile
But for many people, weight-loss drugs have changed more than just their relationships with food. As a Canadian, Jim Squires already celebrated Thanksgiving in October, and thanks to Ozempic he said he not only ate less than he used to, he enjoyed the holiday more, thanks to his increased energy from the weight loss.
“I can do that whole holiday experience with a smile on my face now,” he said. “I can engage more fully, help with the food prep, cleaning the table, getting the house ready.”
In North Carolina, Tyler Whitley, who works on food system reforms, said he will cook less for the holiday this year and what he does make will be healthier. For example, he’ll replace noodles with cauliflower—and then eat smaller portions.
“Instead of making a full 9x13 pan, I’ll make a pan half the size and then acknowledging if we run out, great, we don’t have food waste,” he said. “I know I’m going to get full earlier.”
Alcantar-Martinez’s family in Texas is also eating differently on the weight-loss regimen. Julissa Alcantar-Martinez said her kids are more open to trying new foods.
“Now I can add vegetables, I can add fruits,” she said. “We’ll have macaroni, but it won’t be a serving that’s out of control. Everybody’s noticing their serving sizes.”
The family has also found new ways to celebrate Thanksgiving: cards listing what they’re thankful for, running the 5K Turkey Trot and singing karaoke.
“It used to always be focused on food,” she said of the holiday, “and now we don’t really care.”
--With assistance from Madison Muller.
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