There is a notable increase in the number of physicians aspiring to specialize in obesity medicine, spurred by the escalating demand for prevalent weight-loss drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic.

Nearly 1,900 medical practitioners registered for the annual obesity medicine certification exam in October, according to statistics provided by the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) to Insider. This figure represents a 50% surge compared to the number of applicants from 2022.

The upswing accompanies the growing demand from Americans for potent weight-loss injectables, referred to as GLP-1 agonists, which can facilitate losing 15% to 20% of body weight. The drug’s popularity has sparked competition among pharmaceutical enterprises to create their own versions. Concurrently, health insurers and employers offering health plans are imposing limitations on these drugs to safeguard their financial resources.

These medicines, together with other innovative obesity treatment methods, have ignited interest among doctors, stated Dr. Kimberly Gudzune, the ABOM’s medical director responsible for administering the examination. She noted that as patients turn to their doctors for obesity-related aid, physicians increasingly acknowledge their lack of sufficient knowledge about the illness, due to gaps in medical school curricula.

Gudzune explained, “Growing awareness of obesity as a chronic illness and the availability of effective treatment options leads to patients discussing their desire for treatment with their doctors. This often prompts busy practitioners to acknowledge their need for enhanced knowledge in this area.”

Over 6,700 physicians now have an obesity medicine specialization. The field itself is relatively young, with the American Medical Association acknowledging obesity as a disease only ten years ago. The ABOM was established in 2011, and the inaugural certification test was held in 2012.

From fewer than 600 certified obesity specialists in 2013, the count has surged to over 6,700, as per the ABOM. Although certification isn’t a requirement for treating obesity, it signifies that a physician possesses particular knowledge and expertise in the field. Qualifying for the exam requires either completing an obesity medicine fellowship or a stipulated number of independent study hours.

The swelling ranks of obesity medicine specialists should enhance treatment accessibility for millions of Americans suffering from obesity or being overweight — conditions impacting more than 70% of US adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the demand for treatment currently exceeds the supply of qualified physicians.

“We’re making efforts to bridge this gap,” Gudzune stated. “Although it takes time, the sustained growth indicates we are heading in the right direction.”