The media is promising the public a quick fix for obesity via the new class of weight loss drugs, but in a rush to promote headlines, they’re leaving out some essential information for patients. These drugs must be taken for life and combined with diet and exercise, but our instant gratification public wants results without effort.
The headline was startling “A new class of drugs for weight loss could end obesity.” The subtitle said, “they promise riches for drugmakers, huge savings for health systems, and better lives for millions.” I was alarmed as I read this story because promises often come with price tags.
Investors and analysts are as excited as the gossip columnists. Some estimate that Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical firm that makes Wegovy, will sell $3bn-4bn of it in America alone this year. The firm plans to launch the drug in many countries soon. Its share price is up by 40% over the past year and has doubled over the past two.
The article does mention that obesity is a problem of staggering global proportions—and one that afflicts few celebrities but legions of ordinary people. In 2023 the World Obesity Federation (of), an NGO, said 1.1bn people aged over five, or roughly 14% of all people in that age bracket, were obese. A further 1.6bn, or 24% of all the world’s over-fives, were overweight. In a report published on March 3rd to mark World Obesity Day, the federation projects that four billion people—half of everyone over five—are likely to be overweight or obese by 2035.
The solution might seem obvious: to eat less and exercise more. To those of a judgmental nature, the failure to lose weight reflects a lack of willpower. But Louise Baur, a professor at the University of Sydney, rejects the idea that the obesity epidemic represents “the moral failure of hundreds of millions of people.” Fatima Stanford, who studies obesity at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, notes that attempts to lose weight through diet and exercise work for only 10-20% of the population: “For most people, we don’t see a dramatic drop.”
My Lord..we’re in deep trouble
Lauren was sick and tired of trying to lose weight. She was prediabetic and decided to ask her doctor for Wegovy. Although she had to pay $850 for the drug, she decided it was worth it. When I asked her about diet and exercise, she said her commute and work left little time for any trips to the gym.
After her first dosage, she felt okay, but four hours later, she told me she was nauseous and had to lie down. After, she said she had a relationship with her toilet as she battled diarrhea. “I’ve never felt this bad before.” The other issue was that she had zero interest in eating ANYTHING. “Food just had no appeal to me,” she told me. It got so bad that she became dehydrated and forced herself to drink electrolyte fluids.
After just one dosage, she said, “it’s not for me,” and has found the time to start exercising by going for long walks. She also started eating more fruits and vegetables. When I asked her if she had any regrets, she said: “the stories in the news make it sound so easy, but it’s not, and I wasn’t expecting the level of bad side effects even though my doctor warned me.”
I have written about the dangers of obesity on the world economy and how it endangers the health of millions. These weight loss drugs offer our instant gratification society a quick fix but do nothing to address the root causes of obesity, which is a big issue. We have become a nation of people who want pharma to develop a pill for our poor health and wellness.
The other issue that’s not being discussed enough is that people need to be on these drugs for life to keep their weight off, and the vast majority who stop taking medicine regain their weight. But that’s not my biggest complaint.
If the world is going to address obesity, it has to be tackled through education and reinforcement of good behaviors. These drugs are a band-aid to a severe problem more extensive than the pandemic ever was. The media is writing checks against obesity that can’t be cashed.
My guess is that insurers will be pressured to cover these drugs for people who want to lose weight. This means we will all pay the price. When the media writes stories about these drugs, they would be better served by not promising that we’ll all have fantastic bodies by using these drugs. IMO the FDA also needs to step up and keep the public informed of the potential side effects and highlight that, in clinical trials, weight loss was also due to diet and exercise.