What is happening
A new category of expensive weight-loss drugs has exploded in popularity in recent months as celebrities, tech moguls and social media stars testified that they were able to lose weight quickly thanks to the drugs.
Originally conceived as a treatment for diabetes, drugs like it (both brand names with the same active ingredient, semaglutide) work by mimicking a natural hormone that makes our bodies feel full. Studies have found that the drugs, which are typically injected once a week, can help clinically obese people lose as much weight and keep it off.
Because of these remarkable results, some researchers believe these drugs are an ongoing effort to stem what is often called the obesity epidemic. More than qualified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is associated with a long list of life-threatening health conditions, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. The medical costs of obesity in the United States have been estimated to be over $170 billion per year.
The Food and Drug Administration for chronic weight control treatment last summer. Ozempic, on the other hand, was only approved for treating diabetes. Even so, more and more physicians are prescribing it “off label” to treat their patients’ obesity. Drugs have also become the ideal solution for those who want to lose weight. The dramatic increase in demand for Ozempic has made it difficult for some diabetics to acquire it.
Why is there debate
Some obesity experts believe that drugs like Ozempic may actually help solve the obesity epidemic, providing an effective alternative to the crash diets, failed lifestyle lectures and often dangerous pharmaceutical treatments that have been at the center of weight loss efforts for so long. Many express the hope that these new drugs could mark a turning point where the medical field – and society at large – begins to treat obesity as a disease, rather than as a result of personal shortcomings such as a lack of willpower. .
But skeptics say there are many barriers to these new drugs delivering on their promise. These drawbacks include high cost (up to $1,300 a month), spotty insurance coverage, occasionally serious side effects, and the fact that people will need to stay on the medication indefinitely to avoid quickly gaining all the weight they’ve lost. Others worry that the treatments could be dangerous for people who aren’t obese and are taking them just to look thinner rather than to address health complications caused by their weight.
Some of the harshest critics reject the basic premise that getting people to lose weight should be a top priority. They point to a growing body of research suggesting that someone’s weight, on its own, is their health, as many believe it to be. They argue that it would be better for the country’s health if medical experts focused on life-threatening conditions rather than the supposedly flawed metric behind them.
What is the next
Industry experts expect this new class of drugs to become a major source of business in the coming years as more products are approved specifically for weight loss. Some analysts believe that tirzepatide, a weight-loss drug from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, could be the one if it gets FDA approval.
These new drugs could dramatically improve the overall health of the US population.
“I think these drugs could be the most prescribed drugs in the history of the world sometime in the next five to 10 years. … People should use these drugs with a proper diet and exercise plan, so I hesitate to suggest that it’s a magic bullet, but I think in the long run these drugs will be very accepted – not just for weight loss, but to improve health.” —Paul Kolodzik,
Weight loss drugs allow doctors to treat obesity as they would any other disease
“In the United States, individuals with illnesses have access to specialized healthcare professionals, medical procedures and pharmaceuticals. Not so for people with obesity. … This approach exacerbates the current health crisis and does a great disservice to people who need treatment for a disease – obesity – that is often ignored until it is too late. —Robert Gabbay,
While not perfect, these medications are significantly better than other weight loss interventions.
“Right now the field is really looking for more effectiveness, number one. People will do almost anything to lose weight. We have more than just surgery now to promote substantial weight loss. The most exciting thing is that obesity is on a tightrope.” — John Buse, endocrinologist, to
We must not let fair concerns about anti-fat bias detract from this advance.
“The righteous backlash against the genuinely useless diet and exercise mantra has created a new politics of ‘fat acceptance’, especially in certain left-wing circles, which treat any discussion of body weight issues as akin to racist or homophobic speech. Caught between diet and exercise and their enemies, the idea of effective treatments has no constituents.” — Matthew Yglesias,
Medication could help reduce obesity in young people before it becomes a chronic condition
“The childhood obesity epidemic is already here – and getting worse. This step to make weight loss medications more readily available as part of a comprehensive treatment approach for adolescents is a good one.” — Lisa Jarvis,
It will be difficult for many people to continue taking these drugs in perpetuity.
“You are betting that this medication will be safe, affordable and available for your whole life with no side effects and you will be motivated to inject yourself every week for your period.” — Nsisong Asanga,
Until there is enough supply, these drugs should be reserved for diabetics
“The problem is this: Diabetics need drugs like Ozempic to regulate their blood sugar. However, the US government has not issued guidance to physicians or pharmacists on how to prioritize this drug for those who need it to stay alive… —Zoe Witt,
The correlation between weight and health is much more complex than most people realize.
“Weight alone is not a reliable indicator of health. Many people who are considered overweight by current measures are metabolically healthy, and many people who are not considered overweight are not.” —Taylor Andrews,
There is a high risk that these drugs will be abused by people who do not have a medical reason to take them.
“I think it’s not black and white; as with many things, the question of whether these drugs are useful depends on the context. I can understand the effectiveness of the medicine for those who need it. … While they may help those who are obese or overweight, I can’t help but feel that these drugs are finding an audience among already quite thin women who want to shrink even further – I’m also concerned that people might take this too far. —Lauren Clark,
It will take social change, not a miracle drug, to truly improve the nation’s health.
“There is no focus on food deserts that require impoverished people, many of whom are people from marginalized communities, to live without access to fresh fruits, vegetables, produce and meat. Instead, the message remains that obesity is a complex disease that can be cured through diet, exercise, and ever-increasing medical interventions. … As much as some doctors would like to stop treating obesity as an individual flaw, their drugs and approaches simply reinforce this status quo. — Evette Dionne,
Drugs can reinforce some of the most dangerous attitudes about weight
“The broader cultural implications of Semaglutide injection for weight loss are broad. … Losing weight is normally considered an achievement: the result of hard work, dedication and tremendous self-discipline. (These attitudes, which equate body weight with some sense of morality, may only work to reinforce the psychological underpinnings of some eating disorders.)” – John Semley,
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Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images