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Moms say their weight-loss drugs had a trickle-down effect — making their entire families healthier

Emily Farache   

Moms say their weight-loss drugs had a trickle-down effect — making their entire families healthier
  • Drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro have a side effect of appetite suppression and weight loss.
  • Some people taking these drugs say their entire family is eating better and working out more now.

A vacation to Myrtle Beach last spring turned into a wake-up call for Jamie Bernardi and her family.

Bernardi, a 38-year-old social worker with obesity and type 2 diabetes, was too easily winded to play with her kids, nor could she fit on rides with them at the amusement park.

"Mommy's too fat to sit with me in the go kart," Bernardi's six-year-old son told his siblings.

"It was on that trip that I was like, 'Wow. I'm missing out on so much with them,'" the mother-of-five told Business Insider. "My sugar was out of control. My blood pressure was out of control. Everything was just going in a downward spiral."

That was the beginning of Bernardi's recovery.

Shortly after returning home to Weirton, West Virginia, Bernardi's doctor put her on the diabetes medication Mounjaro, part of a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists that, famously, have a side effect of significant weight loss.

While Bernardi has seen transformative improvements in her own physical and mental well-being since her first Mounjaro injection, she was most struck by the impact it had on her family. It seemed like everyone was rejuvenated.

"We used to stop for fast food several times a week, taking the kids for treats like ice cream and other treats excessively, more because I wanted it than they did," Bernardi said. "I explained that I wanted to get healthy to raise them and that we were going to try to get healthy as a family."

The trickle-down effect

This is what researchers variously call the "trickle-down effect," "the ripple effect," or "the halo effect": when a person's lifestyle changes benefit their family members and close contacts who aren't under medical care.

Several past and ongoing studies explore the effects bariatric surgery, a weight management program, or a weight-loss drug can have on a patient's family.

Doctors and researchers hope the trickle-down effect will help curb new cases of obesity. Almost half of US adults have obesity, up from around 30% in 1999, according to the latest CDC data, collected in 2020. About one-third of young people have an overweight or obese weight status. Obesity-related care cost the US $173 billion in 2019, the CDC reported.

If we can better understand this phenomenon, it could have implications for weight management across the US.

"We often see that the patient who's modeling these healthy behaviors is modeling them for other people in the home," says Dr. Keeley J. Pratt, associate professor of Human Development and Family Science at The Ohio State University, who studies this effect. The ripples pay dividends for the entire household, Pratt said, "particularly children."

While this effect may occur with all kinds of weight management interventions, patients are reporting a much more transformative experience on drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro.

When Lisa Green, a 37-year-old medical records coder, had a baby in 2020, two years after gastric sleeve surgery, the weight she had lost piled back on. Eventually, the petite mom-of-three weighed 265 pounds, and couldn't shift it.

Then, she was prescribed Mounjaro to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome and insulin resistance. Within two weeks, she started to see changes in her body, and felt motivated to begin instituting dietary and behavior modifications for herself and her family.

"The surgery didn't necessarily change the way my body processes anything that I eat or how it stores things like fat and hormones," Green said. "Mounjaro finished off what the surgery didn't."

Taking control

The trickle-down effect isn't just an added bonus.

Pratt, who wrote a guide for parents who are undergoing bariatric surgery, is now working on a new version for parents taking GLP-1s, like Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Wegovy.

People on these medications tend to eat less, due to appetite suppression. They are also advised to be strategic about their nutritional intake, making sure to get enough protein, for example. While that all sounds like a positive shift, it's important to explain the change to children, Pratt said.

"We need to know how when a parent is changing their diet and activity behaviors, what that might do to the overall family dynamic," Pratt said. "For example, if it's not explained to children, could children think things are getting stricter?"

Now, a typical meal at Bernardi's home is lean, grilled chicken with potatoes, steamed vegetables, and fresh fruit for dessert. Bernardi is careful to ensure that their household isn't centered around restriction; she knows that sticking food with "good" or "bad" labels can be dangerous. "I didn't take everything away from my kids," says Bernardi. "This wasn't a punishment for them." Her children still get treats, just not as much as before.

A newfound optimism

Bernardi says her A1C, a common blood test that reflects a person's blood sugar level, is now normal. So are her blood pressure and cholesterol. The migraines that vexed her for 19 years are gone. With less anxiety and a happier mood, she's excited for an upcoming trip to the water park where, for the first time, she'll be able to take rides with her family.

"I'm no longer the mom on the sidelines," Bernardi says. "That makes them happy and proud."

Being part of her kids' play quickly extended into a fun way to make everyone involved in learning healthy behaviors.

Food wasn't the only change in the Bernardi household. What began with walking up and down a hallway quickly blossomed into four-mile runs. Now, her family cheers her on.

"Support from family members and making changes together as a family increases the likelihood that an individual can sustain positive behavior changes long-term," says Pratt.

Just three weeks after she first jabbed her belly with Mounjaro, Bernardi bought everyone in her family generic watches to count their steps. Soon after, their grandmother got in on the fun, and bought herself a tracker, and started texting with her kids about their step counts.

"Now, at the end of the day, instead of us all sitting on the couch eating popcorn, we do our homework, and we compare steps," she says. "So everyone gets to see what their step count was, and we end the night with a healthy snack."

With Green's kids signing up for sports, doing jumping jacks, and taking turns on the newly purchased rowing machine, Green is hopeful for the future.

"Mounjaro has made us want to be more health conscious with them, and I think that will continue going forward," Green, who has reached a healthy weight that she maintains without difficulty, told BI. "It's just maintaining that open conversation with them about what's good for us, not just to eat but also what to do to be healthier."

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