Ozempic, a brand name version of the diabetes drug semaglutide, has recently exploded in popularity for its dramatic weight loss effects. However, this new “panacea” drug has also raised complex ethical questions about the future of the body positivity movement and equitable access to healthcare.
Ozempic’s Meteoric Rise
Originally approved in 2017 as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, Ozempic helps regulate blood sugar levels by mimicking the hormone GLP-1. However, doctors and patients soon realized that Ozempic had the side effect of significantly suppressing appetite and aiding weight loss.
In 2022 and 2023, celebrities and social media influencers raved about dramatic weight loss from taking Ozempic. Their glowing testimonials and before-and-after photos sparked intense interest in using the drug “off-label” for weight management.
By late 2023, demand had far outpaced supply, with some pharmacies reporting 10-month long waitlists for Ozempic. Desperate people turned to unregulated overseas pharmacies or dangerous “budget Ozempic” recipes on TikTok made from laxatives.
Concerns Raised Over Body Positivity and Access
The popularity of Ozempic raises complex questions about equitable access to life-changing drugs. Some ask whether it threatens progress made by the body positivity movement.
Critics argue Ozempic is another quick fix perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, rather than addressing root causes influencing people’s weight like genetics, mental health, poverty and trauma.
Meanwhile the exorbitant cost (over $1000/month in the US) and supply shortages have restricted access for some of the people who medically need it most – type 2 diabetics. Rather than distributing Ozempic equitably, our healthcare system rewards the privileged and socially connected.
|Body Positivity Advocates
|Ozempic threatens to reverse progress on fat acceptance and unrealistic beauty standards imposed by society
|Supply shortages prevent equitable access to diabetics who need it most while rewarding the privileged
|Public Health Experts
|Focus should be on addressing root societal causes influencing weight like poverty, genetics and trauma
What Changes Does Ozempic Cause in the Body?
For those who have managed to access Ozempic, either medically or through off-label use, what changes can they expect in their body?
The most common effects of Ozempic are:
- Suppressed appetite and calorie intake
- Losing up to 15% of body weight over 6-12 months
- For some, reversal of type 2 diabetes
- Reduced stomach fat, smaller waistlines and slimmer face/fingers
However, there are also common side effects including nausea, vomiting, constipation, gas, acid reflux and gallstones. These often improve over time but lead some to quit the medication.
What Does the Future Hold?
It remains unclear whether the hype over semaglutide for weight loss is just another fad diet destined to fade, or the beginning of a new era in medical weight management.
On one hand, history cautions skepticism over promised panaceas. Many note that even on Ozempic, most people’s weight returns once they stop taking it if they don’t establish healthy lifestyle habits.
However, the simplicity of a weekly injection combined with Ozempic’s effectiveness has captivated the public imagination unlike any previous weight loss method. Competitor drugs from companies like Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly are already in late stage clinical trials, aiming to take a piece of the multi-billion dollar market.
One thing does seem clear – our complex relationship with food, self-image and medical interventions for weight are issues that will continue sparking much needed debate on ethics and equitable access in healthcare.
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