Image: Atomwise CEO and co-founder Abraham Heifets
Wegovy: the latest weight loss fad
Elon Musk has espoused Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy to his Twitter followers, with Kim Kardashian also rumoured to have used the drug.
GLP-1s drug injection, normally reserved for diabetics to regulate insulin levels, has become a common tool to trigger rapid weight loss. Ozempic, a weekly injection that helps boost insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetics, is the most popular drug used to achieve fast and dramatic weight loss results. In 2021, Novo Nordisk, the Danish company that developed the drug, was permitted by the FDA to develop a higher-dose version designed for people with obesity under a different name: Wegovy.
Both obesity and Type 2 diabetes are hot topic issues in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the adult obesity rate was 42.4% in 2020. One in 10 people in the US has Type 2 Diabetes. The search for methods to treat these serious health problems should be seen as a positive step, however, fad diets and get-thin-quick schemes glorified by online influencers do more harm than good.
Weight loss garners huge social media attention
Elon Musk himself espoused the benefits of Ozempic and Wegovy to his over 120 million Twitter followers. Multiple celebrities, namely Kim Kardashian, are rumored to use these drugs, and TikTok videos containing the hashtag #ozempic have garnered over 360 million views and the number continues to rise. The social media frenzy and influencer endorsements have provoked a huge increase in demand.
The rise in weight loss medication also coincides with changing body standards, which are now more akin to those of two decades ago. A New York Times article from November 2022 announced the return of “heroin chic”, the 90s fashion trend of looking extremely thin to the point of illness. However, both the trend toward weight loss drugs and the return of the once-outdated veneration of ultra-thin bodies should be huge concerns for social media influencers and health regulators alike.
Using diabetic medication to lose weight is not a victimless crime
The Ozempic weight loss trend has triggered a nationwide shortage of diabetic medication in the US due to supply chain disruption and demand surpassing supply. Diabetics that rely on this medication have been forced to limit their doses. Meanwhile, those that use the drugs to lose weight could find alternative and arguably healthier methods. In fact, the European Medicines Agency stated that common side effects of these drugs include nausea, diarrhea, and the lowering of blood sugar levels.
41% of TikTok’s 800 million users are between the ages of 16 and 24. According to Kerrie Jones, clinical director, and founder of the eating disorder clinic Orri, this age group is particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders. The lack of effective regulation on global platforms like TikTok only exacerbates this vulnerability. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose. Deloitte estimates that the economic cost of eating disorders in the US stands at $64.7 billion every year. This is an important public health issue that carries costly consequences. Social media companies need to do a better job of regulating what appears on their platforms, especially when it comes to health matters. Influencers with large audiences need to do a better job of using their platforms responsibly and consider the broader impact that a focus on weight loss has on their young followers.