Society of Bioethics and Medicine
The “Miracle” Weight Loss Drug Taking the Internet by Storm
Written by Sultona Davlatova
Edited by Selma Music
Obesity’s prevalence in the U.S. is no secret. 73.6% of American adults aged 20 and older are either overweight or obese based on data gathered by the CDC from 2017 to 2018. If you walk into a drug store, chances are you’ll find an aisle with fat loss supplements claiming their product will help you lose twenty pounds in two weeks. However, as we all know, these products rarely ever actually work.
There has been a surge in popularity for the weight loss drug Ozempic, or Wegovy, products of the pharmaceutical company named Novo Nordisk. Both drugs are of the same medication, being semaglutide, where Wegovy has slightly higher doses of this main active ingredient. Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist that's most widely known as an antidiabetic medication due to its ability to regulate blood sugar. Even though this type of medicine has mainly been used for diabetic patients, of recent times, it has become popularized as a weight loss drug. Wegovy became FDA approved for weight loss in June 2021 for adults and in December 2022 for teenagers. Due to its observed effectiveness for weight reduction and its popularity in Hollywood, as well as its virality on social media apps like TikTok, it has become the new trending path to “quick and easy” weight loss.
These types of drugs seldom come without a multitude of problems and/or risks. A new study from China has reported an increased risk of intestinal obstruction with the use of this medication. In the event of an intestinal obstruction, food or liquid cannot move through your intestines, which may cause the blocked portions of your intestines to die, leading to serious or deadly complications. However, as a representative said to the New York Post, “gastrointestinal side effects are well-known side effects of the GLP-1 RA class,” and “the majority are of mild to moderate severity and of short duration.” There seems to be a clear correlation between GLP-1 and intestinal issues, as there have been studies showing this in 2020 and 2022, along with the 2023 study from China. However, the New York Post article claims that they were observational in nature and could not confirm a direct relation.
Another unwanted side effect that many have been experiencing is an aged appearance in the face. This effect has been given the name, “Ozempic face” by Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a dermatologist in New York. There are many reasons this side effect occurs, more so in older populations. The reason this weight loss drug is so popular is because it allows one to lose weight so quickly, but for some this can be a double-edged sword because quick weight loss may result in sagging skin. On top of that, fat is beneficial for a more youthful looking face, so it is no surprise that an older looking face may be common among users.
There are other side effects one may experience as well. Some common and mild side effects that occur are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mild stomach pain, and fatigue. Additionally, since semaglutide is a medication that is meant for long term use, weight gain after stopping medication use is possible. Low blood sugar, pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, kidney damage, allergic reactions, and thyroid tumors are of the more uncommon side effects that one may be at risk for when taking this drug.
As this medication had first started out as a diabetic drug, many question the safety and ethics of its use in weight loss. It has been referred to as a “miracle drug” by many. There has been a continual shortage of Ozempic due to the virality that it has acquired from its showcased effectiveness in rapid weight loss. Due to the upward trend of doctors prescribing diabetic drugs like Ozmepic for unapproved weight loss use, this has resulted in diabetics who rely on the drug to not have access to the medication that they need. Similarly, Wegovy isn’t supposed to be used for minor weight reduction. It has been reported to help chronically obese individuals manage their weight long term, but with its increased popularity, many have been using it to quickly lose as little as five to ten pounds. Unsurprisingly, many worry about the negative effects regarding body image that may occur due to its popularity, especially in those that suffer from eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia.
There is no arguing the effectiveness of semaglutide for weight loss and managing diabetes; for populations that actually need it, it can and has been used to improve people’s way of life. Yet, the ethics of this weight loss drug becoming viral on an app meant for children is questionable enough in of itself. In this way, it is no surprise that many people hesitate to partake in this mass glorification of Ozempic and Wegovy as a quick and easy weight loss strategy. As we have seen in the past, drugs like this can easily be abused and have harmful effects not only on the individual, but on an entire generation.