A meal without the stuffing
As we head into what is a very food-focused holiday, I couldn’t help but wonder how America’s growing appetite for obesity drugs will impact their actual meal-time appetites.
The surging class of drugs known as incretin mimetics, first developed to treat type 2 diabetes, now has two heavyweights — Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 receptor agonist, Wegovy, first approved in June 2021 and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, a GIP receptor and GLP-1 receptor agonist, just approved earlier this month.
The drugs, along with their type 2 diabetes counterparts, Ozempic and Mounjaro, which are frequently prescribed off-label for weight loss, reduce both appetite and food intake — not an ideal scenario for a holiday that prides itself on overstuffing its participants.
Perhaps NYT said it best when it called the drugs "fundamentally incompatible with Thanksgiving."
With a growing amount of Americans taking the drugs — Bloomberg reported that prescriptions of GLP-1s increased 300% between 2020 and 2022 — many media sources have tackled the looming question: Will the trend alter not just Thanksgiving, but food buying habits in general?
One study found that patients taking GLP-1s reduced their food consumption by up to 35%, decreasing calorie intake by 32% — numbers that are certainly significant enough to change buying habits.
Walmart's U.S. CEO told Bloomberg that while customers taking Ozempic spend less on food, they are still spending more overall, since the spend on the drug itself, and the meds needed to counteract the side effects (stock the shelves with Tums), more than balance out the slight decrease in food sales. While that's reassuring for stores that sell both food and pharma items, it doesn't speak to the fate of food, beverage and restaurant industries.
Overall it seems like these industries are 'monitoring' the situation but not panicking. While Morgan Stanley Research analysts predict that food-centered industries could see “softer demand,” they also pointed out that brands can adapt to changing consumer demands by offering healthier options.
As more and more people take the obesity drug plunge, eating less and making more nutritious choices, it will be interesting to see how the food and pharma industries intersect and adapt. But as for now, despite millions of Americans opting for smaller plates this Thanksgiving, the impact on the holiday seems minimal. Of course, less time chewing could mean more time talking to your uncle about his political beliefs...so I wish you all the best of luck. —Karen Langhauser
Antibiotics in your turkey?
If you’re looking for a fun, relatively family-friendly and semi-politically safe topic to discuss around the Thanksgiving table this year, I may have one for you: Try to guess if the turkey on your table is free from antibiotics.
The use of antibiotics in turkeys is a common practice in the poultry industry. In crowded farming settings, such as industrial turkey farms, the risk of disease transmission among birds is higher. Antibiotics can help prevent and treat bacterial infections, ensuring the overall health of the flock.
But the use of antibiotics in livestock for growth promotion has raised concerns globally due to the potential development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can potentially pose risks to both animal and human health.
The debate surrounding the agricultural use of antibiotics is complex. While some view agricultural antibiotics as a critical threat, the extent of the problem is hard to grasp. But even though there is no conclusive evidence attributing the rise in resistant strains solely to agriculture, some studies have highlighted the potential relationship between the two.
Turkey production has been found to be a contributor to antibiotic overuse, with 2020 data showing the highest antibiotic purchases per pound of meat produced compared to other meat sectors. The FDA also reported that antibiotic sales in turkey production increased from 2019-2020, unlike other sectors.
Research also indicates that antibiotic-free meat is less likely to contain drug-resistant bacteria. A 2019 study revealed that conventionally raised poultry had nearly double the amount of multidrug-resistant Salmonella compared to antibiotic-free poultry.
To address these concerns, there has been increased scrutiny and regulation of antibiotic use in livestock, including turkeys. Agencies such as the CDC have shared guidelines to promote responsible use, restrict the use of certain antibiotics and emphasize alternative strategies such as vaccination, improved hygiene practices, and more natural farming methods to maintain the health and well-being of turkeys without relying heavily on antibiotics.
The aim is to strike a balance between ensuring the welfare of the turkeys and minimizing the risk of antibiotic resistance in the broader context of public health — and that is something to be grateful for.
— Andrea Corona