Ozempic Era: the hyperfixation to stay thin overshadows beating diabetes

Graphic by Mandile Mpofu/BU News Service

By Kaninika Dey

Boston University News Service

Ozempic, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, has gained increased attention in recent times, after Hollywood allegedly discovered its quick weight loss effects.

The Food and Drug Administration first approved Ozempic as an injectable medication for treating patients with diabetes in 2017. Later in 2021, the FDA approved a higher dose of the active ingredient, called semaglutide to treat obesity, under the brand name Wegovy.

Ozempic is clinically prescribed as a “once-weekly injectable medication,” according to Forbes and is “formulated to help adults with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar.”

Although Ozempic is considered a safe medication, some of its common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Other less common but more serious side effects include pancreatitis, hypoglycemia, thyroid tumors and cancer. 

People can gain most of the weight back within a year of stopping the medication which becomes difficult to control, according to a study in the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

The popularity of Ozempic has surged within recent months after Internet rumors of popular Hollywood stars taking the drug to slim down their body.

“Everyone is suddenly showing up 25 pounds lighter,” Andy Cohen, radio and television talk show host, tweeted in September. “What happens when they stop taking #Ozempic?????”

Comedian Chelsea Handler confessed to taking Ozempic for two years without even knowing that they were meant for people with type 2 diabetes. In the Jan.25 episode of Call Her Daddy, the comedian revealed that her “anti-aging doctor hands it out to anybody.” She immediately stopped taking them after one of her friends informed her of the actual name of the injections she was taking.

Elon Musk and Remi Bader are among some of the celebrities who have openly admitted to taking Ozempic for weight loss. Other celebrities, such as Mindy Kaling, Kyle Richards and Khloe Kardashian, have been rumored to have used Ozempic, although it has not been confirmed.

In the 2023 Academy awards, host Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at the alleged use of Ozempic by celebrities by opening the show saying, “When I look around at this room I can’t help but wonder, ‘Is Ozempic right for me?’”

However, this increase in demand for Ozempic has caused a shortage in the drug for patients with type 2 diabetes. 

Ozempic’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk markets it as a drug to treat diabetes and says that keeping the supplies stable is a priority. With Ozempic costing $1400 a month, and most insurance plans not covering it, many people already find it difficult to stay on the medication in the long term. With new demand, the price will likely further increase making it more difficult for the drug to be accessible to people who actually need it. 

“A lot of times, people are using it for weight loss when they don’t have clinical obesity or a medical diagnosis of obesity,” Dr. Ebne Raft, a pharmacist, said. “Unfortunately, as a result, this kind of leaves a shortage of people who do need it for a medical purpose.”

Dr. Jennifer Mieres, chief diversity and inclusion officer and a professor of cardiology at Northwell Health in New York, said that the lack of access to this new class of drug to vulnerable groups is “infuriating,” according to a report by NBC News. 

Jia Tolentino, a staff writer for The New Yorker, said Ozempic’s arrival has further introduced the conversation of what it means to be fat and the renewed fixation to be thin.

Tolentinto wrote: “It’s not a casual thing to drastically alter your body’s metabolic process, and there is no large-scale data about the safety of these drugs when taken by people who are mainly interested in treating another chronic condition, the desire to be thin.”

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