Celebrities and influencers are taking Ozempic for weight loss, but that isn’t going to fix what our society has broken
I was walking around the Bay Centre the other day when I saw it. An ad with a young man smiling, “Ozempic” superimposed over it. This is especially distressing now that both YouTube and Tik Tok are feeding me ads all about this new supposed weight loss drug.
If you’re lucky enough to not know about Ozempic, it’s a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes that contains the active ingredient semaglutide among others. According to the New York Times, “semaglutide lowers blood sugar levels and regulates insulin.” Ozempic also imitates a chemical that makes our bodies feel full quicker, “prompting our stomachs to empty more slowly.”
Semaglutide helps control cravings and hunger, and because of this the manufacturer of Ozempic, created Wegovy. This sister drug has a higher dosage of semaglutide that was approved to treat obesity, but currently Wegovy is not available in Canada. Now Ozempic and Wegovy have blown up on social media platforms like TikTok, with the Ozempic hashtag gaining over 1.3 billion views on TikTok.
The National Post claims that in Canada more than 3.5 million Ozempic prescriptions have been dispensed, totaling almost $1.2 billion. That’s a huge jump from 2018, when the drug was first approved in Canada. Jjust over 81 000 prescriptions were dispensed that year, worth $26 million.
Even though Health Canada states that it does not approve the use of Ozempic for weight loss, it is still prescribed off-label for this use. With the growing numbers of prescriptions, there is a higher chance that it is being used for reasons other than diabetes treatment.
This rise of using drugs for weight loss is nothing new in our society. Since the 19th century, people have always sought a ‘cure’ for weight gain, ranging from diet, to exercise, surgery, and drugs.
In the 1990s diet drug fen-phen became popular after many users testified to dramatic weight loss, but it was later withdrawn after users experienced heart valve and lung disease. The early 2000s had Ephedra, but that was banned after multiple health problems from heart attacks, to seizures to strokes, and in some cases death. Now in 2023, we have Ozempic and Wegovy.
Even though Ozempic’s manufacturer claimed that it demonstrated long-term safety in clinical studies, it’s unclear what the long-term side effects for taking this drug for weight loss actually are. Some users have come forward about adverse reactions to the drugs.
As recently as last month the Canadian law firm Siskinds proposed a class action lawsuit against Ozempic manufacturer Novo Nordisk. This claim states that patients were not fully warned of potential harmful side effects.
The side effects claimed include mild to moderate gastroparesis, a condition in the gut that causes nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. According to The New York Times, some cases are so bad people on the drug had to go to the hospital. It also states that there was a 28 per cent increased risk of gallstones for the people on this drug.
This lawsuit also claims that the Canadian product monographs for Ozempic lack these potential side effects despite the evidence to back up these claims.
The popularization of Ozempic has left a shortage of the drug across America and Canada. Ozempic holds the largest share in the drug market for diabetes, and has successfully been used to help people put their diabetes into remission, according to CNN. Some doctors are even claiming their patients are being put on back order.
While a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk told Global News that there was no Ozempic shortage in Canada, the Government of Canada’s website tells a different story. It claims that there is expected to be a shortage of Ozempic until at least the end of March 2024, due to an increased worldwide demand. Because of this, people who actually need the drug to survive are the ones primarily being affected.
On top of the worldwide shortages, prices are high. In America, Ozempic costs around $1 220 to $1 700 in Canadian currency for a month’s supply, while in Canada the same dose can cost $200 to $300.
With the average Canadian rental prices reaching an all-time high and with some saying Canada is on the verge of a recession, almost half of Canadians claim they’re concerned about the ability to pay for housing, let alone being able to afford an extra $300 expense. With the prices being high, it becomes less accessible for the people who need it most.
In recent months there has been a concerning shift in the media that is very reminiscent of the 2000s and is rooted in fatphobia. The Kardashians, our generation’s trendsetters, have focused on getting skinnier. Low-rise jeans are making a comeback, popular old plus sized celebrities weight loss journeys are becoming headline news.
When the media focuses on celebrities’ weight loss journeys, it can create unrealistic expectations of what people can achieve. A meta analysis of the PubMed database has also shown that even though dieting can cause short-term weight loss, the long term effects are associated with weight gain.
Seeing a celebrity or influencer that once looked like you turn around and conform to “thin beauty standards” creates a subconscious aspiration to do the same. If you can’t achieve that goal it can cause a sense of failure.
A trial on the effects of semaglutide published last year claims that patients on this drug lost an average of 15.2 per cent of their body weight, compared to placebo. It makes sense that so many people would flock to a drug that is said to help you lose so much of your body weight considering societal pressures to lose weight.
That being said, a study funded by Novo Nordisk claims patients who have come off the drug one year after 68 weeks of regular use regain an average of two thirds of their weight lost from using the drug.
With Ozempic currently gaining more than 1.3 billion views on TikTok, it makes me wonder if this new drug will derail all the progress the body positivity movement has made in the last few years.
Many of us grew up in a time where people talked about how Jennifer Lawrence was too “fat” to play Katniss in the Hunger Games, and I’m old enough to remember when people called Brittney Spears a whale during her 2006 VMAs performance. Growing up in a society that is so focused on people’s weight, I can understand the appeal Ozempic.
I don’t blame anyone who wants to take Ozempic for their weight considering the societal pressures to lose weight, but there are people who need this drug to live. Our need to feel like we have to take weight-loss drugs to fit in comes from the failure of society, not the bodies we were born into.