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Digital Health Firms Capitalize on GLP-1 Boom

For Gray Beard, a kindergarten teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, weight loss had always been an uphill battle
May 27, 2024

Gray Beard, a dedicated kindergarten teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, had struggled for years to find an effective weight loss solution. Having tried five different programs without success, she felt disheartened. However, her journey took a promising turn last year when she discovered Ro’s Body Program through an Instagram promotion. This initiative by the digital health startup Ro promised a new approach to weight loss using GLP-1s, a class of medications that have revolutionized obesity treatment.

Beard, 47, had previously sought a GLP-1 prescription, but her doctor was hesitant due to the high cost and potential insurance hurdles. GLP-1 medications, such as Wegovy and Ozempic, can cost around $1,000 per month without insurance. However, Ro’s Body Program offered a comprehensive package: monthly doctor consultations, access to an educational curriculum, 24/7 messaging, one-on-one coaching, and assistance with insurance navigation. This holistic approach proved transformative for Beard, who lost 40 pounds after joining the program and now serves as its ambassador.

Ro, initially founded as Roman in 2017, transitioned to focus on obesity management in 2020, capitalizing on the soaring demand for GLP-1s. Analysts predict that by 2030, the market for anti-obesity drugs could reach $100 billion annually. Ro’s offering includes popular GLP-1s like Wegovy, Ozempic, and Zepbound, which help regulate appetite and blood sugar by mimicking gut hormones.

Ro isn't alone in this booming market. Competitors like Calibrate, Sesame, Omada Health, Noom, Hims & Hers, and WeightWatchers have all launched or expanded services to include GLP-1s. For instance, WeightWatchers integrated GLP-1s into its programs, recognizing the need for specialized support for members using these medications. Despite the industry’s growth, challenges such as supply shortages and the proliferation of counterfeit products pose significant hurdles.

Ro’s founder, Zachariah Reitano, remains undeterred. The company has adapted to supply issues by building technical tools to help patients secure their medications, even making thousands of phone calls to pharmacies nationwide. Ro's marketing efforts are robust, spanning digital ads, TV commercials, and influencer campaigns, highlighting the life-changing impact of their program.

Ro's approach has resonated with many, including Jennifer VanGilder, an economics professor who lost 100 pounds through Calibrate's program, which also combines GLP-1s with personal coaching. Despite some setbacks, such as supply shortages and insurance challenges, these digital health companies continue to innovate and expand their offerings.

As demand for GLP-1s grows, so does the need for comprehensive support programs like Ro's Body Program. For Beard and many others, these programs offer more than just medication—they provide a sustainable path to healthier living. Ro’s holistic approach, combining medical, educational, and personal support, has set a new standard in obesity treatment, helping individuals achieve lasting weight loss and improved well-being.

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