There's a Pill for That

Health & Wellness

There have been miracle pills for weight loss and fitness for a long time.   After the second world war, amphetamines became widely used to reduce appetite, though they were banned by the FDA for weight loss in 1979 as they turned out to be addictive.  Since then, drugs like fen-phen, Meridia, Acomplia and Ephedra have all come and gone with checkered results.  I can remember 20 years ago hearing about all the supplements that people were taking to increase their metabolic rates in the pursuit of six packs, often with dangerous side effects.

But now, magical ‘skinny pills’ seem to be having their ‘moment’ and changing the fitness world - in particular, GLP-1.

GLP-1 isn’t actually new, though the category has seen some significant breakthroughs in the past few years.  The focus began around treating diabetes, with work in the 1970s finding the first incretin hormones, and then glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) was discovered.  The 1980s saw the amino acid and DNA basis for proglucagon get figured out, and the FDA approved the first GLP-1 agonist (Exenatide) in 2005.

Not to get too science-y here, but GLP-1 does a bunch of things in your body - it releases insulin in the body, makes your digestion less efficient, helps you eat less and stops sugar getting into your blood.  GLP-1 Receptor Agonist medications work by mimicking this hormone - your hunger feels more satisfied despite getting less food into your blood stream.  Beyond this, they can also help lower blood pressure and reduce risks from fatty liver and heart disease - what’s not to like?

GLP-1 RAs were first designed to treat diabetes, but now drugs like Ozempic are becoming household names as generalist long-term weight loss drugs.  In clinical trials, Ozempic saw a long-term body weight reduction of around 15% over a year compared to just 2.4% in the placebo (people just getting a pretend drug).  These results are staggering, and they’re changing how people think about weight management and weight loss.

The impact of these GLP-1 RA drugs is being felt across the stock market.  Investing in the drug companies creating them has been described as mania this year, and Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said in an earnings briefing late last year that the company was already preparing for the increased adoption of GLP-1s and working to make products catering to those who use the medication.  In general, fast food stocks have suffered as investors mull reduced demand due to these medications.

The fitness industry has been forced to take notice.  Around a year ago, Weight Watchers acquired Sequence to begin prescribing these hot weight loss drugs.  In January of this year, wellness platform FitOn teamed with weight loss company Noom, and digital brand obé Fitness linked with Found.  Equinox, Life Time and Xponential Fitness are all trialing and adapting to these new weight loss drugs.

Earlier this month, Oprah revealed why she quit the Weight Watchers board of directors, and it really came down to her being able to talk about anything in the context of her own weight management journey.  She had revealed in 2023 that she was taking a weight-loss drug, and that had become more important to her than counting calories.

So what’s the next magic pill?

Now researchers are working on drugs that can mimic the effects of doing a workout.  SLU-PP-332 and similar new compounds fall into this category.  Your muscles think that they are exercising while you are sat on the sofa watching Netflix - that sounds like nirvana.

While these ‘exercise pills’ are being conceived for people who can’t exercise, it’s not a big jump to think that they may end up seeing much broader use.  Just as GLP-1 RAs were first focused on diabetes but are now being used much more widely for weight loss.

So is it time for the fitness industry to panic?

Certainly the big names are responding to these new drugs but introducing them into their offerings, and that may not be a bad thing.  There’s an old saying that six packs begin in the kitchen, and if you are over eating, you can be strong and have good cardiovascular fitness while still lugging that belly around.

But the value proposition for fitness goes beyond weight loss:

  1. Feeling Fit:  That feeling of being strong or runner’s high from cardio.
  2. Relaxation:  That sense of calm and being relaxed, probably caused by endocannabinoids.
  3. Anti-Depressant:  Exercise blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress, helping reduce depression.
  4. Mental Clarity:  Long term cardio can help the brain improve with more blood and new brain cells, improving memory and focus.
  5. Wellness:  Cardio and strength workouts are known to help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and even brain diseases like Alzheimer's.
  6. Longevity:  Fit people tend to live longer, with better quality of life due to reduced risk of injuries such as falling.
  7. Achievement:  There’s a reason for all the brag boards and gamification - that feeling of progress and outcomes to getting healthier.
  8. Community:  In boutique classes, sweating together creates community and a sense of belonging in members.

Better weight management through drugs like Ozempic can help people improve their wellness outcomes.  They can work together with exercise to help people see greater transformation success by avoiding binge eating bad foods when the hunger hits late at night.

The good news for gyms and boutique studios is that it’s very hard to mimic all the effects that exercise has on the body using a drug cocktail.  In the end, our bodies were not designed to sit on sofas or at desks all day - they were designed for physical activity.

At Tribe we’re focused on enabling gyms and studios to challenge their members and help them track to meaningful outcomes.  When members feel successful, the gyms and studios reap the rewards in reduced churn and profits - we’re here to help.

Justin Marston

Thinker, writer, innovator, runner, Star Wars fan

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