Ozempic: Obsession With Being Skinny, but at What Cost?
“Semaglutide,” commonly sold under the name “Ozempic,” is a drug intended to treat adults with type two diabetes. It helps to lower blood pressure by stimulating insulin secretion in the pancreas. However, the use of Ozempic has grown beyond treating people with diabetes. Due to the medication’s side effects of appetite suppression, it has been linked to being quite effective for weight loss. Ozempic helps with weight loss by tricking the brain by mimicking hormones regulating food intake. It also slows down the emptying of the stomach, leading to people feeling full longer. Now being linked to weight loss, Ozempic has become the latest craze. Its sudden popularity has inevitably led to a shortage in North America caused by supply restraints and increased demand. This shortage poses many risks for people suffering from obesity and diabetes. So, who is truly behind the exponential growth of demand for Ozempic?
Many are starting to blame Novo Nordisk, the manufacturing company of Ozempic itself, for the increase in demand. Novo Nordisk has been aggressively marketing Ozempic in Canada. There has been spotting of adverts on television, billboards in cities, public transit, and professional sports games, oftentimes including the slogan "we just asked," emphasizing how easy it is for people to get their hands on the drug. Most of the time, the ads focus on its effect on weight loss rather than its use for diabetes. Moreover, Ozempic has found its way into the social media fixation on being skinny, losing weight, and diet culture. For instance, #Ozempic has over 1.3 billion views on TikTok. The drug has received several endorsements from celebrities and social media influencers. There has also been speculation of celebrities as notable as the Kardashians using the medication for weight loss.
The fact that Ozempic advertisements are practically everywhere and the drug is overtaking social media raises concerns among health professionals that the drug may be reaching the wrong audience. Its increase in popularity induces people to use the drug for cosmetic reasons and associate it with vanity rather than medical purposes.
The high exposure to the drug has led to an increase in pleas to doctors from patients wanting an Ozempic prescription in hopes of losing weight despite not suffering from obesity. People are starting to see the drug as a quick fix for weight loss and are wanting a prescription simply because they want to shed a couple of pounds for an upcoming event, like a wedding. The misuse of the drug is only reducing the accessibility for people who actually need it, like diabetics. But most importantly, it's only making things worse for those suffering from obesity.
For example, in Quebec's public drug insurance, Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), there is a strict rule that medication prescribed for weight loss, like Ozempic, won't be covered by insurance. Their main justification is that they fear the inappropriate use of Ozempic for weight loss. Although there's more to it, this reasoning is partially rooted in fatphobia and misconceptions about obesity in general. Numerous people believe that obesity is only caused by unhealthy life choices and those suffering from the condition could easily lose weight if they just put in the effort, which is not the case. Many people fail to realize that obesity seriously impacts people's overall health. People struggling with obesity face a reduction of 10-20 years in their lifespan.
Despite pleas made by medical and health professionals for the RAMQ to make exceptions for people with weight-related conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or hypertension, they remain steadfast. Ozempic not being covered by the RAMQ forces people who suffer from obesity and want to take the drug to spend 300 dollars a month. Also, since obesity is a genetic disease for many, those taking Ozempic would need to take it for the rest of their lives to continue reaping the benefits. How is it fair that obese people are condemned to spend 300 dollars a month for the rest of their lives just to stay healthy? Many people who struggle with obesity have described Ozempic as giving them a second chance at life. Additionally, it has been shown to have better long-term effects than other alternatives, such as bariatric surgery.
The RAMQ and Quebec's health ministry appear adamant about their stance, and unfortunately, they seem to have no plans to change the unjust rule. Failure to acknowledge the health needs of obese people and the fact obesity is a disease, not a choice, reinforces misconceptions and the idea that it should be their fault as it is something they can control.
People seeking Ozempic for cosmetic weight loss aren't helping and are only worsening the problem for people struggling with obesity. Ozempic isn't meant for those who want to lose weight for cosmetic purposes, yet those people have been pulling strings to get a prescription. The inappropriate use of the drug is only causing health ministries to be less open to consider the insurance coverage for medication in cases of obesity treatment.
So, it seems everyone now wants to be skinny, but at whose expense?