Can pharmacies do more to grow their impact in weight loss by focusing more on programme-based weight loss solutions?

Weight loss is a massive industry; according to recent reports about 29 million people in the UK attempted to lose weight in 2013. The global value of the industry is expected to reach £220 billion by 2017, although much of the money that goes into attempts at trimming the waistline is spent on programmes such as Weight Watchers, NutriSystem and Herbalife. Sales of previously big selling pharmacy brands such as Unilever’s SlimFast have fallen dramatically in recent years, and there have been reports in recent weeks that Unilever is ‘reviewing’ the product with a view to selling the brand on.

Leyla Hannbeck, head of pharmacy at the National Pharmacy Association thinks community pharmacy has an important role to play when it comes to helping customers with their weight loss, but it’s all about how you approach and manage it. Pharmacists may need to be creative to maximise sales.

‘It’s hard for pharmacists to approach people about weight loss because it can be such a sensitive subject and one that can easily offend,’ she says. ‘One way to get around this is to bring the subject of weight up during a New Medicine Service review, where pharmacy staff could chat with patients about their body mass index and healthy living. If you have a patient who comes to you for an NMS you can get them to open up about their weight and perhaps put them on a programme, or give them weight loss advice. You can also get them talking about other subjects such as alcohol, as that could be a factor in their weight gain.’

Many dieters struggle to stay motivated, so pharmacies are in a great position to be able to offer personal support – which encourages customer loyalty and repeat purchases – in addition to weight loss products. It can also help to use products such as the NPA Let’s Get Moving scratch cards to encourage activity.

Many dieters struggle to stay motivated, so pharmacies are in a great position to be able to offer personal support

‘There are situations where people might choose to purchase weight loss products over the counter,’ says Ms Hannbeck, ‘and this gives pharmacy staff the opportunity to have a chat with them, perhaps in a consultation room, rather than just selling them the product and leaving them to their fate. Pharmacies are in a good position, not just to sell weight loss products, but to give advice and to follow up on their progress, while assessing how well the dieter’s chosen product or programme is working.’

Because pharmacies often see the same customers regularly, know about their medication and are right in the middle of their community, on the face of it they are in a good position to be a valuable ally in their weight loss campaigns.

Brand perspectives

Many feel that there’s plenty of room to grow the role of community pharmacy in weight management. According to Alphega Pharmacy representative Lynette Eaborn, timing is of the essence, as many people tend to get into a pattern of New Year and summer holiday weight loss.

‘Introducing the service at key times of the year can help build a pharmacy business, not only by increasing professional services income, but also by increasing retail sales through the generation of impulse buys and purchase of service related products,’ she says.

The Alphega Pharmacy Weight Loss Support Service is available free to full members of the Alphega Pharmacy UK network and as a top- up option for other membership levels.

‘Our service involves pharmacists giving one-to-one personal support as the customer goes through a 12-step programme. It is a unique service because it includes motivational interviewing, which is all about building rapport and supporting the customer, rather than the focus being on achieving a target weight. It is a technique that helps the customer reach their own decisions rather than the pharmacist telling them what to do.‘

Members are provided with marketing materials, weighing scales, a comprehensive Weight Loss Support Service Guide and distance-learning training materials for the pharmacy team.

Omega Pharma is upbeat about pharmacy weight loss sales. It will be supporting the launch of XLS-Medical Direct, its new convenient powder sachet that can be taken without water, with an extensive marketing campaign to drive consumers in store.

A spokesman says, ‘Omega Pharma recognises that losing weight is a personal journey that requires support from others. But not everyone will want to broadcast their efforts, so we developed the discrete sachet format to fit easily into a dieter’s daily routine.’

Determined to back up the product with dedicated support, the brand also offers free telephone consultations and an online support programme to customers. ‘This tailored advice will help dieters identify their own triggers and develop a meal plan that is suited to their personal needs,’ he says.

According to research from the Department of Health, pharmacist-led weight management programmes can achieve significant results, with pharmacy patients showing a reduction in both weight and waist circumference as a result of their support.

‘We recognise the important role pharmacy teams play in helping customers become more health conscious, and have developed a bespoke weight management training module to help both pharmacists and pharmacy assistants refine their skills,’ says the spokesman.

Available at www.omegapharmatraining.co.uk the training focuses on category information and advice, scenario-based learning and recommendations of weight loss supports such as XLS-Medical Fat Binder and XLS-Medical Carb Blocker to help dieters reach their goals.

Dr Trevor Jarman, spokesman for Zotrim, points out that slimming clubs currently take the lion’s share of weight loss business. Smaller companies cannot provide the level of support that big brands such as Weight Watchers can. He doesn’t see this changing, but he does have some encouraging news.

‘Recent research is showing that our genetic make-up has a major impact on bodyweight and bodyweight in relation to diet and exercise,’ says Dr Jarman. ‘We have recently launched a genetic test which tests for gene variations which influence overweight and affect hunger.

‘We then recommend the best type of diet (high protein or high carbs) for that person (see www.my-gene-diet.com). So I can see a future where pharmacies offer such tests to guide their customers to appropriate diets and the appropriate products to help them.’

A more personal approach appears to be working for Nelsons, which is optimistic about sales of the Bach Emotional Eating Kit. ‘The Bach Emotional Eating Kit continues to perform well, with sales peaking during the New Year and again in the early summer as consumers focus on their waistlines,’ says marketing manager Kate Haskins, who agrees that timing can be crucial for making the most of sales.

‘These are key seasons when pharmacies should focus on this category, and where possible ensure staff are trained and available to advise consumers on the best approach to healthy, successful weight management. Providing more personal advice is a unique service that the community pharmacy can offer. Staff can tailor weight management options to the needs of the customers and therefore have higher success rates.’

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) wants overweight people to be advised to lose a little weight and keep it off for life. The new weight loss guidelines suggest that overweight people should be sent to slimming classes with the aim of a three per cent weight loss.

Two in three adults in England are overweight with a BMI higher than 25. However, NICE has said that even a small loss of a few pounds would cut a person’s blood pressure and reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes and some cancers.

The director of the centre for public health at NICE, Professor Mike Kelly said weight loss needs to be a lifelong change.

The new guidance for the NHS in England states that weight-management programmes should tackle diet, physical activity and change behaviour and they should be focussed on a lifelong change not a short- term gain. The programme should last at least three months and set target weights for the end of the programme and after one year. The plan should reduce calorie intake but not ban specific foods or food groups and physical activity should be introduced into daily life, such as walking.

"Weight management isn’t just about loosing weight: it’s about educating patients on nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle"

Some established NHS programmes and private businesses such as Slimming World and Weight Watchers fit the new guidance.

Pharmacy-led weight loss

Many people start off in January with good intentions of losing weight, reducing alcohol intake and perhaps joining a gym. But by February, most have reverted back to their old ways. Until May or June, that is, when thoughts of holidays put weight loss back on the agenda.

With professional support, however, people are more likely to stick to their goals, lose weight and, more importantly, maintain it, as several pharmacies tell P3.

‘We offer the Lipotrim weight management programme, which is a total food replacement and nutritionally complete’, reports Gareth Jones, JN Murray in Barrow-in-Furness. ‘Our patients receive weekly consultations, which provide them with health and lifestyle guidance, as well as pointers on meal planning, healthy eating and exercise. We’ve found this approach extremely effective. One of our patients lost five stone over a six-month period. And we’ve seen an increase in our retail sales.’

‘Weight management isn’t just about losing weight: it’s about educating patients on nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is why our patients keep a food diary,’ says Michael Ball, of Broadway Pharmacy, Preston. We offer patients 12 consultations, which include monitoring progress with weight loss, reviewing the patient’s food diary and providing advice on nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I have 40 patients enrolled on the programme and every one is losing weight. One couple lost four stone between them, which is a brilliant result.’ Mr Ball receives £150 per patient who successfully loses weight as a result of the weight management programme.

‘We do our 400 MURs every year and as part of that we address healthy diet and exercise,’ says Dilip Patel of Mirage Pharmacy, Handsworth, Birmingham. ‘Pharmacy could improve its OTC sales in the slimming category by having a section dedicated to slimming products and through advertising in the local newspaper, especially for special programmes. It’s also important to train the staff on these issues. I’ve been here for 25 years and my staff have all been here for at least five years so we build up trust and a rapport with our customers, which is very important.’

Comment

Lila Thakerar, pharmacist at Shaftesbury Pharmacy, Harrow ‘Slimming can be a subject that’s introduced during MURs and healthy lifestyle checks. Opportunistic discussions with patients presenting prescriptions for statins, diabetic or hypertensive drugs would avoid the embarrassment of approaching customers to suggest weight loss. Our most recommended product is Alli capsules. A pharmacist needs to be involved with this sale, so that appropriate advice can be given about its use. The high cost of this product is a deterrent for most customers and they usually opt to get Orlistat on prescription. This option should be given to the customer, clearly advising that the prescription will be provided based on the doctor’s judgement and at their discretion.’

Dilip Patel, Mirage Pharmacy, Handsworth ‘This is an important category in our pharmacy. We offer the Lipotrim weight management service. It’s extremely successful and customers lose an average of a stone a month, although the cost can put some people off. We also stock other slimming products, but warn people that unless they change their lifestyle drastically, most products won’t work. We offer all customers who purchase slimming products from us the opportunity to come in every week and we’ll weigh them and give them the help and support they need to lose weight. This is a unique selling point for us and we often get repeat purchases of the slimming products as a result and they tell their friends and family.'

Nemesh Patel, AMG Pharmacy, Braintree ‘As a healthy living pharmacy we are passionate about supporting customers to lose weight. Pharmacists really have an excellent opportunity to use their health skills and engage with this target audience. We offer the Lipotrim weight management programme. I find spending time with customers tackling this sensitive issue and supporting them on their programme by setting defined targets can really bring quick results. Recently XLS-Medical Carb Blocker has been a popular pick. Free BMI checks and pedometer sales have also sparked interest. Advice on regular exercise, meal plans and healthy eating are fantastic ways in which we can support our customers.’

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