A doctor measures a patient’s waist.
A growing number of doctors want to become obesity experts.
Almost 1,900 doctors signed up to take this year’s exam to get certified in obesity medicine.
The surge comes amid huge demand for weight-loss drugs such as Wegovy.
The number of doctors who want to become obesity-medicine experts is surging amid explosive demand for popular drugs that help people lose weight, such as Wegovy and Ozempic.
Almost 1,900 doctors signed up to take the annual exam in October to become certified in obesity medicine, according to data the American Board of Obesity Medicine shared with Insider. That’s 50% more than the number of doctors who applied for the test in 2022, the data showed.
The increase comes as Americans clamor for powerful weight-loss injections known as GLP-1 agonists, which can help people shed 15% to 20% of their body weight. The popularity of the drugs has ignited a race among pharmaceutical companies to develop their own versions. Meanwhile, health insurers and employers that pay for workers’ health coverage are putting restrictions on the drugs to protect their budgets.
The drugs, along with other new obesity treatments, have also piqued doctors’ interest, said Dr. Kimberly Gudzune, the medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, which administers the test. As patients seek help for obesity from their doctors, physicians increasingly realize that they didn’t learn enough about the disease in medical school, she said.
“As there’s more awareness of both obesity as a chronic disease and all of the effective treatment options, patients are coming into their physicians and saying: ‘I want to be treated,'” Gudzune said. “And I think that that is oftentimes the trigger for a lot of busy practitioners to say, ‘I really need to know how to do this.'”
More than 6,700 doctors have specialized in treating obesity
Obesity medicine is a relatively new area of specialization.
The American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease only a decade ago. The American Board of Obesity Medicine, established in 2011, administered the first test to become certified in 2012.
Since then, the number of doctors certified in obesity medicine has grown from fewer than 600 in 2013 to more than 6,700, according to the board.
Doctors don’t have to be certified to treat obesity, but getting certified shows that a doctor has specialized knowledge and skills, the board says. To qualify for the exam, doctors must complete a fellowship in obesity medicine or complete a certain number of hours of independent study.
The growing number of doctors specializing in obesity medicine should improve access to treatment for the millions of Americans with obesity and those who are overweight — conditions that affect more than 70% of adults in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, the number of people looking for treatment outpaces the number of doctors who can help them.
“We’re working on growing to try to address that gap,” Gudzune said. “But it does take time, and I think that the growth does speak to us working in that direction.”