Sunday, April 14, 2024

No Thanks to Appetite Suppressants: Why Drugs Like Ozempic Are Not “Fun”

Since the appetite-suppressant drug Ozempic was introduced, stories have been emerging about women using it to get skinnier. What message is this sending? Sarah Lang, who once had an eating disorder, has an opinion.

Last week, I was reading US Weekly online (celebrity gossip sometimes distracts me from Putin and Trump) – and to my horror, I saw a ‘story’ called ‘The 7 Best Appetite Suppressants for Weight Loss on Amazon’. The photo was of a THIN woman who is, presumably, trying to get even thinner. WTF? I mean, the ‘story’ on Amanda Seyfried’s anti-wrinkle tape is one thing – as is the story about Victoria Beckham either little other food than grilled fish and veges – but appetite suppressants?           

Appetite suppressants aren’t a new thing. But a lot more attention has been paid to them in recent years, as more effective ones have been developed. Particularly semaglutide, better known as Ozempic (also Wegovy or Rybelsus – depending on the market). It’s a once-a-week ‘injectable’ designed to help treat people with unmanaged Type 2 diabetes by managing their blood-sugar levels. And obviously, if it helps people manage their diabetes, that’s a good thing.

The thing is, Ozempic’s not only being used by diabetics, having been approved for prescription use as a treatment for weight management in countries including the US and U.K. (as Wegovy). Demand has been so high that there’s been a shortage in Australia (where it was approved for Type 2 diabetes, but has also been prescribed ‘off-label’ for obesity) and in other countries.

In New Zealand, Medsafe approved Ozempic in May – only for prescription use by type 2 diabetics. But what’s to stop girls or women who see Ozempic in the news or on social media to buy another appetite suppressant from a pharmacy – such as ‘Slim Fit Appetite Reducer’ from The Chemist Warehouse? (Granted, these types of appetite suppressants don’t work like and aren’t as ‘effective’ as Ozempic.)  What’s to stop them hoping they can access Ozempic in years to come?

On Tiktok, videos with the hashtag #ozempic have racked up 1.2 billion (yes, billion not million) views. Here you see can videos of people – overweight people and thin people – raving about Ozempic and, in some cases, injecting it into their bellies for your viewing pleasure. Elsewhere, Ozempic has been spruiked by social-media influencers and praised by celebrities including Elon Musk.

In countries where it’s available on prescription for weight loss, some people are requesting Ozempic from their doctors. And it’s no wonder: Ozempic is even advertised on TV in the U.S. with the refrain ‘Oh, oh, oh, Ozempic!’ set to the tune of 1970s classic-rock hit ‘Magic’. It’s a catchy tune! The ad says Ozempic is for diabetics, but also lingers on the weight-loss factor. FYI – and this is shameful – New Zealand and the US are the only two developed countries where direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is legal. (Ozempic isn’t being advertised in New Zealand.)

Let’s hope we don’t follow America’s lead when it comes to the availability of Ozempic. A story in The Cut is called ‘Life After Food? A diabetes drug has become an off-label appetite suppressant, changing the definition of being thin and what it takes to get there’. A stylist quoted anonymously said women who ‘never really have to diet’ were most ‘taken’ by the treatment. “Especially for women who have been thin their whole lives – but not skinny, not fashion thin – the idea of touching that without having to sweat [during a workout] is really fun. It’s really fun for them to have their jeans hang off of them like they’re [Gigi or Bella] Hadid.”

FUN? It sure doesn’t sound fun.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and constipation, just for starters. Meanwhile, Australian endocrinologist and medical professor Dr Gary Wittert told the Financial Review that healthy people seeking Ozempic “are not aware they might be compromising their health. They are robbing Peter to pay Paul. They’ll lose muscle and bone mass and when they stop the drug, they’ll put back the fat, and more, but won’t regain all the muscle or bone. This is a medication meant for people with serious health problems, and that’s how it should be used.” 

So, should people who don’t have Type 2 diabetes take a drug that, by reducing their appetites, might mean they don’t get enough nutrients? Should they take a drug that they think ‘replaces’ exercise, but with potential side effects and without the other health benefits provided by exercise?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that New Zealand women will get ‘thin pill’ prescriptions anytime soon. What is already concerning is the normalisation of appetite suppressants in a society where dieting and thinness are praised and rewarded. What message are we sending to people – particularly young women – who hear about Ozempic and decide they want their jeans hanging off them ‘for fun’?

There has been some recent pushback against Ozempic, including by celebrities. Kayla Itsines, the Australian co-founder of fitness video app Sweat, has called the use of Ozempic to get skinner an “eating disorder”). You could be cynical and say that that’s Kayla’s position because people might exercise less – which could theoretically lead to fewer people using her app – but I tend to believe this is her actual view.

And I agree. As someone who used to have an eating disorder, I think we need to minimise potential triggers. Our appetite is a natural signal for when we do and don’t need to eat, which sure seems like something we should work with not against – and messing with that could lead to disordered eating. That’s particularly concerning given there’s been a big spike in eating disorders since the pandemic began, internationally and in New Zealand.

So, my question is: do we want people – particularly young women – to think they should take drugs to suppress their appetites? Might it be FUN?

To that we say, F**K OFF.

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