Ozempic: a quick “fix,” a high cost

zempic, the newest fad for weight loss, is sweeping through Hollywood and the world at large. Praised by numerous public figures, the drug has entered the public consciousness as a powerful weight loss method, as well as a pop culture phenomenon – but the negative effects of Ozempic and drugs like it rarely share the same spotlight.

Ozempic originally was intended to be used solely by adults with Type 2 diabetes. According to the Ozempic website, it’s “proven to improve blood sugar” by helping the pancreas make more insulin.

“It’s only FDA approved for people who have Tvpe 2 diabetes, so insurance companies will only pay for it if someone has that diagnosis. Otherwise they will have to pay out of pocket.” Dr. Robert L. Bjork, a local doctor who has prescribed Ozempic, said.

However, because it can decrease hunger cues, it caught the attention of those looking to lose weight – a development that has allowed many celebrities to hit the red carpets with what appear to be new bodies. In fact, at nearly every award show this season, Ozempic has slipped at least once into a monologue joke.

“I see people talking and joking about Ozempic a lot on social media, which I think desensitizes us to the actual use the medicine has, because the only time it’s talked about is for celebrities losing weight,” Sofia Lundquist (11) said.

Figures like Amy Schumer, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Chelsea Handler and Rosie O’Donnell are all openly taking the medication. In an almost eerie fashion, people have seen admired celebrities mirror the elite from the “The Hunger Games” series — who took a drug that caused them to throw up so they would be able to continue eating. In reading about this at age 12, it seemed like a dystopian concept, but now it has become close to the reality of the real-world elite.

Media megastar Winfrey has garnered both criticism and support in the past over her public journey with weight loss. Winfrey used to be a very active member and advocate for Weight Watchers, a community-based weight loss program that encourages members to commit to losing weight by consuming a limited number of food “points” per day. Winfrey is still a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, which is expanding its services to include support for dieters who use drugs like Ozempic. According to Winfrey, quotedin a Washington Post story, the weight loss medication she takes today “feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift.”

“The presence of Ozempic has influenced perspectives on diet and nutrition,” Bjork said “Ever since dieting became popular in the 1960s, large segments of the population have always been looking for quick fixes on how to lose weight, fast and easy.”

With its current prominence in pop culture, it is easy for Ozempic — and positive promotion of its weight loss potential — to reach younger consumers, already hyper aware of their appearance.

“It can cause young girls to start overusing and losing weight necessary for proper development,” Talena Ladendorf (12), link crew liaison of TPHS PALS, said. “Allowing it to be accessible for young people in general can push the narrative of developing an eating disorder.”

Ladendorf was a speaker at the TPHS National Eating Disorder Awareness march on Feb. 24, where she spoke about her experience with the process of destigmatizing seeking treatment for eating disorders.

What’s important to know is that Ozempic, as a weight loss drug, is not the solution the media makes it out to be. Ozempic requires a weekly injection and changes the nature of one’s digestive system by increasing the amount of time it takes for food to leave the body, according to FDA side effect warnings.

Potential side effects include hypoglycemia, swelling of the pancreas and increased risk of thyroid cancer, according to the Ozempic website. On top of this, there’s no guarantee of successful weight loss, according to Bjork.

Moreover, celebrities characterize Ozempic as “easily attainable,” but, in fact, it is not covered for weight loss by most insurance plans (it is covered for diabetes). According to Bjork, it costs roughly $1,000 a month, which does not include a doctor’s fee for prescribing it.

The idea of global access to Ozempic is flawed. It is not surprising that celebrities are the most prominent models of the drug for weight loss; they are the main demographic that can afford it.

The misleading media hype surrounding Ozempic also caused a national shortage in diabetes medication, taking it away from those who need it, according to research by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. 

Given that “health care providers wrote more than 9 million prescriptions for Ozempic in the final three months of 2022, representing a 300% increase from 2020,” according to Trilliant Health, it seems that Ozempic is becoming a staple of current culture. It remains, however, immeasurably important to be wary of the drug and to recognize the potential harm in using it incorrectly.

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