Health Insurance Assurnace computer laptop

Employees have made more claims for anti-obesity drugs and substance use disorder in recent years, finds a study of group benefits data by Manulife Financial Corp.

Drug claims for anti-obesity medication in Canada increased by 42.3% from 2022 to 2023, and substance use disorder claimants increased by 17.2% in the same period, according to Manulife’s first Employee Health Report released Friday.

The report used aggregate claims data across Manulife’s Canadian group benefits business.

Across the 2020–2023 period, the increase in claims for anti-obesity drugs was steeper, rising by 91.9%. Global media coverage on off-label use of drugs like Ozempic may have contributed to the trend, the insurer said in a release.

Women account for 78.8% of all anti-obesity drug claimants, ranging from 77.1% in British Columbia to 81.3% in Atlantic Canada.

“The higher use amongst women could be related to social pressures and body image concerns that are sometimes experienced by women,” the report said.

The number of claimants who sought help with substance use disorder, including alcohol and opioid use, rose by 52% from 2020 to 2023.

Substance use disorder contributes to workplace absence and disability, Manulife said in the report: “It’s common for people with mental health issues to struggle with substance use disorder and vice versa.”

According to Manulife’s data, mental illness was the leading cause of short- and long-term disability diagnoses in 2023, followed by musculoskeletal conditions. The average age of long-term disability claimants was 48 and 55% were women, the report found.

Immune disorders followed by diabetes were the top two conditions for drug reimbursements.

The insurer said it provides health benefits to more than 5 million people across 27,000 Canadian employers.