How will weight loss drugs affect the fitness industry in Australia?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard about the massive uptake of weight loss drugs across the globe. Ozempic is by far the most dominant brand of GLP-1 agonist, but no doubt there will be an increasing number of competing drugs hitting the market in the near future. The impact weight loss drugs will have on western society might be more far-reaching than you think. Some experts have likened the significance of these highly effective medications to the introduction of smart phones in how much they could influence the world we currently live in.

Will Ozempic disrupt the Australian fitness industry?

The number one reason behind Aussies having a gym membership is to lose weight. Two out of every three Australian adults are overweight or obese and we are not winning the battle of the bulge. So, if GLP-1 agonists such as Ozempic become the new norm for managing obesity, is there a need for people to be sweating in out at the gym?

Not only that, but how will gym attendance be impacted given that nausea is a common side effect of people taking these medications? No one wants to bounce around in their group exercise class when they’re feeling queasy.

We can look to the US for a heads up on what to expect as the roll-out of this kind of medication shifts the lifestyles of millions of people. Global franchise powerhouse, Xponential Fitness are on the front foot with this disruption. The franchisor of boutique brands such as Rumble Boxing and Club Pilates acquired a chain of weight loss medical centres late last year, staffed with doctors who can prescribe GLP-1 drugs.

weight loss drugs affect the fitness industry

Could weight loss drugs be a good thing for the fitness industry?

It’s a well understood fact that any sort of weight loss also means a reduction in muscle mass. For the long term weight loss drug user, this is a consideration that should be factored in. A loss of muscle mass can have serious implications, particularly as we get older. If the medical professionals prescribing these drugs emphasise this side effect and educate their patients on the importance of incorporating resistance training into their lifestyle to counteract this effect, could this actually be a good thing for the fitness industry?

Dr Matt Vickers is a specialist GP and Clinical Director at Juniper, an online medical pathway for women to achieve sustainable weight loss using practitioner-prescribed treatments and dietitian-led health coaching.

“In Juniper’s Weight Reset Program, we make sure to emphasise a comprehensive approach to weight loss that focuses not only on shedding excess fat but also on preserving and building lean muscle mass.” said Dr Vickers.

“When losing weight while on a GLP-1 drug, your body composition goes through changes. If you lose weight without preserving muscle mass, your metabolic rate may decrease and you may appear slim, but have a high percentage of body fat relative to muscle mass. If you lose muscle, your functional strength will decrease and limit your ability to perform daily tasks, compete in sport, or even enjoy hobbies.”

weight loss drugs and the australian fitness industry

This could be a perfect opportunity for fitness professionals to work with patients who are using weight loss medications to tailor a strength program that is designed to complement their weight loss journey and optimise their overall health and fitness.

“Lean muscle mass is essential for physical function, disease prevention, and for maintaining a generally high quality of life,” said Dr Vickers.

“In our program, we educate our patients to understand that using weight loss drugs without addressing muscle preservation and growth through exercise and strength training can be detrimental to achieving long-term success.

When people understand the importance of preserving and growing muscle mass while losing weight with GLP-1s, our hope is that they are much more likely to feel motivated and empowered to incorporate strength training into their life.”

What are the potential flow-on effects to other industries?

It’s too early to say just how much the influx of GLP-1 agonists will have, but here are some predictions:

Fashion: With increased numbers of people shedding weight, we could expect to see a surge in fashion spending as they seek to show off their new figure and restock wardrobes with smaller size clothing.

Cosmetic procedures: In our already appearance-obsessed world, where Botox and fillers are already everywhere, it’s fair to assume that these kinds of treatments will experience a surge. Whether it’s tackling excess skin from weight loss or a newfound interest in one’s appearance, we don’t see the trend of cosmetic procedures backing off any time soon.

Hospitality: The restaurants might just be some of the hardest hit as weight loss drugs gain popularity  across the population. A significant reduction in appetite is one of the most commonly experienced side-effects of GLP-1 drugs and could make social occasions such as dining out with friends a much smaller affair. Given that most Australians exceed their ideal caloric intake at the moment, this reduction in how much we eat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For the hospitality industry, however, a widespread reduction in our desire to go out and enjoy food could be devastating.

Food and Groceries: Whether it’s the Friday night takeaway or simply the quantity of food in the shopping trolley, as more people start taking weight loss drugs, there will be less food shopping. According to Forbes, stocks associated with unhealthy food have plunged as the uptake of these drugs has spiked.

Supplements and Nutrition: Following on from the reduced appetite, it’s going to be more important than ever that people are conscious of what they do consume so that they get the necessary nutrition to maintain ongoing health. We could be seeing a dramatic increase in the consumption of dietary supplements to compensate for the reduced consumption of food.

Alcohol and Entertainment: Not only do GLP-1 drugs inhibit the desire to eat, but studies show they have a significant effect on other compulsive and addictive behaviours, including alcohol and recreational drug use. Aussies drinking less is definitely a positive, but the social aspect of alcohol consumption can be pretty far reaching. Less drinking could mean less reliance on public transport, less people staying out late on weekends (just one more round, right?), and of course reduced spending on alcohol in general. These aren’t necessarily bad outcomes, but could definitely impact the economy and the Australian social scene in general. Some potential wins for a reduced drinking culture could mean less accidents involving drunk drivers and accidents sustained whilst intoxicated, as well as a drop in alcohol related violence.

Of course this is all hypothetical, but it’s completely plausible too.

ozempic and the fitness industry

What can fitness professionals do?

The global pandemic showed us how the ability to pivot can be make or break for businesses. While the uptake of weight loss drugs is likely to affect the fitness industry in many ways, there are opportunities for gym owners and fitness professionals to ride this wave, rather than be wiped out by it. A collaborative approach between medical professionals and the fitness industry could see exercise form part of the prescription for weight loss drugs and support the elevation of the fitness industry from being classified as a recreational and entertainment  activity to being part of the health category.

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