WHO advisers to consider whether obesity medication should be added to Essential Medicines List

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Obesity is a major health concern worldwide, affecting people of all ages, genders, and socio-economic groups. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2 billion adults worldwide are overweight, and more than 600 million are obese. Obesity is not just a cosmetic issue, but a serious health problem that can lead to various complications, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Obesity medication has been suggested as a potential solution to combat this rising epidemic. However, the question remains, should it be added to the Essential Medicines List? In this article, we will explore the WHO advisers’ considerations to answer this question.

WHO advisers’ considerations on obesity medication

The WHO Essential Medicines List (EML) is a list of medicines that are deemed essential for addressing the most important medical needs of the population. It is updated and revised every two years by a group of experts from around the world. When considering whether obesity medication should be added to the EML, the WHO advisers must weigh the potential benefits and risks of these medications.

One possible benefit of adding obesity medication to the EML is that it may help to decrease the prevalence of obesity and associated diseases. These medications are designed to help individuals lose weight by reducing their appetite, increasing their metabolism, or blocking the absorption of fat. This could potentially improve their health outcomes and reduce the burden on healthcare systems. However, the WHO advisers will also need to consider the possible adverse effects of obesity medications.

Possible adverse effects of obesity medications

Obesity medications can have various adverse effects, including nausea, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. In more severe cases, they can also cause cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure and heart attacks. Additionally, they can have negative impacts on mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. These risks need to be weighed against the potential benefits when considering whether to add obesity medication to the EML.

Furthermore, there is a risk of addiction or abuse with some obesity medications. For example, phentermine, one of the most commonly prescribed obesity medications, is a stimulant that can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. It is important for the WHO advisers to consider the potential risks of addiction and abuse when deciding whether to add obesity medications to the EML.

Another consideration for the WHO advisers is the cost-effectiveness of obesity medications. These medications are typically more expensive than other weight loss interventions, such as diet and exercise. If obesity medications were to be added to the EML, it could potentially increase the burden on healthcare systems and make it more difficult for individuals to access more affordable weight loss interventions.

Other weight loss interventions

There are numerous other weight loss interventions besides medication that the WHO advisers will need to take into account when weighing the potential benefits and risks of including obesity medication on the EML. These include diet and exercise programs, bariatric surgery, and behavioral counseling.

Diet and exercise programs are the mainstay of weight loss interventions. They are relatively inexpensive, have few side effects, and can lead to long-term weight loss if a person adheres to them. However, it can be challenging for individuals to maintain the lifestyle changes required for long-term weight loss.

Bariatric surgery is a more radical approach to weight loss. It involves surgically altering the stomach to reduce its capacity, thereby decreasing food intake. Bariatric surgery is highly effective in producing rapid weight loss, but it is expensive, carries significant risks, and is not suitable for everyone.

Behavioral counseling can also be an effective weight loss intervention. It involves working with a healthcare professional to identify and address the underlying psychological and emotional issues that may be contributing to a person’s weight gain. However, it can be time-consuming and expensive, and it may not be covered by insurance.


Obesity medication is a potential solution to the rising epidemic of obesity. However, the question of whether it should be added to the WHO Essential Medicines List is complex and requires careful consideration of the potential benefits and risks. The WHO advisers must weigh the potential benefits of reducing obesity and associated diseases against the potential risks of adverse effects, addiction or abuse, cost-effectiveness, and the availability of other weight loss interventions. Considering all factors, the decision of whether to add obesity medication to the EML is yet to be made.