Salary + super + Ozempic?

3 minute read

That’s quite the employee benefits scheme.

Stop us if we’ve mentioned this before, but weight-loss drugs like semaglutide are becoming quite popular.

That’s a fact not lost on Melbourne company Conversion Digital, a marketing agency with more than 70 staff, which recently offered to spring for their Ozempic or Wegovy as an employee benefits scheme “designed to assist your personal wellness journey”. 

Many employees would be happy with a parking space, or an office fruit box if you’re feeling particularly wellnessy.

Conversion Digital is pricing the per-employee allowance at $200/month, which is very much in the cost zone of an off-label private prescription for weight loss rather than an on-label one for diabetes (~$30/month), even though the company says its intention “is not to promote the product for weight loss contrary to [TGA] guidelines”.

The company’s general manager Sylvia Thiet told the feedback from employees had been “overwhelmingly positive”, with some staff asking if the drugs will be available for family members, and one asking for it “for their dog”.

It might be quite a while before the company has to pony up. As with all popular things the demand is radically outstripping supply, with the TGA announcing last week that you can say goodbye to the prospect of stable Ozempic stocks till at least the end of next year (which sounds like code for “indefinitely”). Its Novo Nordisk sister drug Wegovy (also semaglutide) is also out of stock for the foreseeable.

This will be a blow to many in Australia, according to a casual poll of who’s doing the most internet searches for these weight-loss drugs. The good folks at Universal Drugstore, “one of Canada’s oldest, largest, and most trusted online prescription referral services”, looked at search data to see which countries showed the most interest in the meds.

The press release is light on methodology (e.g. searches absolute or per capita?), but for what it’s worth they report that Australia ranks equal fourth with Mexico after the US, Canada and a surprising Norway in our curiosity about GLP-1 RAs.

How does this compare with current world obesity rankings? According to World Population Review, all the world’s 10 most obese countries are island nations in the South Pacific. After that it’s the US, with 36% of the population at a BMI of 30 or above followed by a clutch of Middle Eastern nations with around 35%.

We’re pretty equal with Canada and Mexico at about 29% – followed at a slim 23% by Norway, which is nevertheless in the top three markets for Wegovy with the US and Denmark.

Circling back to our generous Melbourne company, the Back Page is unable to find a reported precedent for this employee benefits offer – though telemedicine operators in the US are of course trying to get the drugs covered by employee health insurance and employees have been asking, as Fast Company reported in July in coverage of the American Diabetes Association’s annual conference.  

The big manufacturers are all working on oral versions, with Novo Nordisk reporting that its daily pill Rybelsus has similar weight loss effects as Wegovy and Ozempic. Not only that, but side effects of nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea were reported at similar rates as with the weekly shots – 80%!

We’d hope that kind of data, if more widely reported, would make people think twice about giving these meds to their poor dogs. Or even their employees.

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