Ozempic has caused quite a stir recently, with influencers like Remi Bader to major celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Elon Musk revering its weight loss benefits over the pond. And with a similar drug, Wegovy, recently being approved in the UK by the NHS, it’s clear that the “skinny jab” isn’t going anywhere soon.
But what if the drug isn’t all it’s hyped up to be? SCREENSHOT spoke with Rosslyn Duncan, who is five weeks into her course of medicine, to find out.
In a nutshell, Ozempic and Wegovy are weight loss drugs designed to help people shed fat by suppressing appetite. The active ingredient in both is semaglutide, which works by inducing satiety—the feeling of being full and satisfied with food.
“Semaglutide also helps the pancreas produce insulin, which is how it helps manage type 2 diabetes.” Emma Beckett, Senior Lecturer in Food and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle, wrote in The Conversation.
Beckett went on to note that the ingredient mimics “the role of a natural hormone called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1), normally produced in response to detecting nutrients when we eat. GLP-1 is part of the signalling pathway that tells your body you have eaten, and prepares it to use the energy that comes from your food.”
Like many, Duncan attributes her initial knowledge of Ozempic to the internet and social media—in particular, TikTok. “I was watching people taking it and describing their experience. I thought ‘well, why not try it myself?’”
She continued, “A year ago, we were living in the US, and my doctor recommended I try it. At first, I was a bit cautious about taking medicine you had to inject. However, once it started to become more popular, and I saw the results people were having [through TikTok and social media], I thought I’d give it a go.”
For Duncan, the major benefit of the weight loss drug is its ease of use. “It just switches off that need-to-eat feeling. You don’t have any desire to eat food while you’re on it, you sometimes even have to remember to eat. Throughout my five weeks on the drug, I’ve gradually built up my dose. The only side effect I’ve had has been nausea. You have to remember that, even if you’re not hungry, you have to eat. Other than that, it’s a game changer—for me at least.”
So far, Duncan reports that she’s lost between 10 and 11 pounds since starting her treatment. She also noted that her regular exercise has been “gentle” such as “regular walks” instead of “going to the gym.”
However, she does emphasise the importance for people to do their own research before using Ozempic and similar drugs like Wegovy. Despite TikTok typically not providing the most reliable source of information, Duncan stresses that she would look for nurses and other credible creators who would provide progress reports and “practical insight” into how it works.
For Duncan, one of the only downsides of taking the medicine is that it “stops her thinking about food—so you need to keep track of what you’re eating, and remind yourself to keep drinking and eating, even if they’re smaller portions, to avoid flatlining.” Although Duncan only reports experiencing nausea, other side effects of the drug are said to include diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomiting, and constipation.
Cost can also be another major drawback for many, as the drug is only prescribed through the NHS to individuals with a BMI of 30 or over. Duncan told SCREENSHOT that she’s currently forking out £250 per month for her Ozempic, and warns others to evaluate the long-term commitment such a scheme might have on their finances.
“I know some people who have started to pay for it themselves (only for around four or five months) but once they stop, they just put the weight back on again. People should be cautious about this medicine,” she added. “It’s a lot of money and is a long process. The finance aspect of it all, particularly not being able to get it through the NHS, is a drawback.”
The financial burden is even larger in the US, where around 70 per cent of Americans are considered to be obese. Over there, many healthcare plans don’t cover the weight loss drug: setting individuals wanting the treatment back thousands of dollars. “Even in the US, [the healthcare industry] is being very cagey,” Duncan adds.
“My daughter who lives there has had an ankle operation, impacting her mobility. She’s tried to get it but it’s not covered in her healthcare plan,” she further told me. “If she wants the drug, it would cost her around $1,200 per month.”
The hype around Ozempic and Wegovy has caused a surge in demand worldwide—with many in the US simply unable to access the drug.
A recent report by Insider found that Americans are now buying drugs abroad in the face of such high fees. “While buying medicines outside of the US to bring home can be risky, people’s willingness to do so underscores the failure of the US healthcare system to ensure Americans can afford effective treatments as they become available,” Shelby Livingston from Insider wrote.
“In many cases, only wealthy people will be able to get their hands on obesity treatments, even though the disease disproportionately affects people with lower incomes.”
Despite its benefits, the rise of injectable weight loss drugs has received backlash. Particularly from critics who see the new medicine as a means of replacing the conventional forms of weight loss, like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Others also warn of the dangers of changing dieting culture as we know it, erasing the progress we’ve made in body positivity and fatphobia over recent years.
It was only in the 90s that women were glamourised by mainstream media for an unhealthy heroin chic aesthetic. And, in my living memory, pro-anorexia Tumblr blogs and websites would litter the internet, further reinforcing toxic body images, with young women particularly impacted.
“I get that,” Duncan replied when asked about this point of view, but hinted that looking at this medicine through a binary lens is counterproductive. “However, I’ve tried several diets, I’ve joined gyms for long periods of time, and I’ve had a personal trainer. I’ve always managed to [get my weight] down to a certain level, but it’s always crept back up again.”
For Duncan, the drug is purely utilitarian—a tool to help her lose weight, and in turn live a healthier and longer life.
“It’s not a fix for all. You have to take this medication in an intelligent and sensitive way,” Duncan continued. “As long as you do that, you shouldn’t gain your weight back once you get down to a certain level. I’m 60, and the chances of losing weight as you get older get reduced so, for me, this was a crucial step.”
Ultimately, people “should always go through a doctor when getting this medicine,” Duncan concluded. “You need guidance, especially if you’re a teenager. If a teenager is extremely overweight, it could be useful for them to use it, but only as a means of getting them to the gym, building body positivity and a different mindset while they’re still young.”
Like many things in life, the recent rise in popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides the means of helping some lose weight who otherwise couldn’t. On the other, it’s not out of the question that the drug could cause diet culture and body positivity to take a darker, and more harmful turn.
However, as of now, the overarching issue is that the large majority of individuals don’t even have that choice. Due to its high price, the medicine remains out of reach for the working class and most vulnerable in our society: often the very people that need it most.