In October 2022, a fan posted a picture of a noticeably slimmer-looking Elon Musk and asked the Twitter mogul a question. “Hey, @elonmusk what’s your secret? You look awesome, fit, ripped & healthy. Lifting weights? Eating healthy?” “Fasting,” was Musk’s not-so-surprising first response (fasting is very trendy now, especially in the tech world). The follow-up—“And Wegovy”—was rather more surprising, if only for its honesty.
Musk’s admission to his 116 million Twitter followers, and the world, that he had used Wegovy—also known as Ozempic—was a huge boost to the profile of the not-so-secret weight-loss “wonder drug” that many other celebrities are using, although most won’t dare admit it. In a way, it was only fitting that Musk, the man who bought Twitter at a huge cost because he believes in open and free speech, should help blow the lid on just how widely used this new drug is among the glitterati.
If your favorite actor or actress has recently lost a noticeable amount of weight, chances are they’ve been using Wegovy. One of the tell-tale signs is the so-called “Ozempic face,” a gaunt look caused by the loss of facial fat. Although buccal-fat removal is now an increasingly common procedure, where fat from around the cheeks is surgically removed to give the face a more angular, harder look, it’s just as likely that celebrities are using Wegovy.
Semaglutide, the drug’s proper name, was created by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes in 2012. Clinical trials began in January 2016 and were completed in May 2017. The drug is injected and works by mimicking a natural gut hormone called GLP-1, which is responsible for regulating insulin and blood sugar levels. In basic terms, the drug helps to curb hunger pangs and makes the user feel full for longer. If you don’t feel hungry, you won’t eat, and if you don’t eat, you’ll start losing weight: It’s that simple.
Many drugs start as treatments for a different condition than the one they ultimately become known for treating. Viagra was a blood-pressure medication before users reported that it had a surprising, and in many cases not unwelcome, side effect. Semaglutide was first approved for use as a diabetes treatment under the Ozempic brand, not long after clinical trials came to an end, and then later approved as Wegovy, a higher-dose treatment for obesity in the United States, UK, and European Union.
The buzz about semaglutide and its fat-busting effects had been building for some time before Musk’s tweet. By 2020, it was already the 129th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with over 4 million prescriptions. After a shortage of Wegovy in the United States, doctors began prescribing Ozempic off-label as a fat-loss treatment. Shortages of Ozempic have also been reported in Australia, where new prescription guidelines had to be issued to prioritize the diabetes patients for whom the drug was originally developed. These failures to meet the growing demand for semaglutide led Novo Nordisk’s competitor Eli Lilly to state that it was working “around the clock” to make sure there was an adequate supply of its drug tirzepatide, which functions similarly.
In the first nine months of 2022, Novo Nordisk reported a 59 percent growth in sales of Ozempic and Wegovy. Social media, especially TikTok, is now awash with videos about semaglutide and its miraculous effects. The hashtag #ozempic has hundreds of millions of views on TikTok alone. Given all of this attention and positive coverage, it’s perhaps not a wonder that semaglutide is already being hailed as the “solution” to obesity.
Obesity is, of course, one of the prevailing illnesses of modern life in the developed world, if not the prevailing illness. All the evidence suggests it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better—much worse, in fact. A recent study in the Journal of Obesity focused on the long-term weight gain of nearly 15,000 adults in the United States and found that one-fifth of American adults gained 20 percent of their body weight over 10 years. The study also found that women gained nearly twice as much as men over the same period and that younger adults gained the most overall, at an average of 17.6 pounds between their 20s and 30s. Over a lifetime, the combined weight gain adds up to 45 pounds, more than enough to push most people into the category of seriously overweight or even obese.
In the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41.9 percent of adults are now obese, a significant increase from the 30.5 percent who were obese at the turn of the millennium. The prevalence of severe adult obesity has increased from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent. Among American children, nearly 15 million, or 19.7 percent, are now obese, and 12.7 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are now obese. The estimated medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion in 2019.
A problem on this scale obviously requires a bold approach. But what’s bold about creating a drug that does nothing to address the real causes of the increasingly overweight, unhappy world we live in?
Champions of semaglutide claim that it’s, above all else, a compassionate treatment for weight problems, since traditional approaches—eating less, moving more—don’t really work. Some of us just weren’t made to be a normal size, it’s in our genes to put on weight, and so as soon as we’re put in a modern environment of abundance, we end up overweight. It’s something like a law of nature: It’s irresistible.
While I would be the first to say that there are many things we don’t know about obesity (why do the Hadza, Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, not get fat, despite eating as much sugar, in fruit and honey, as Americans? Why do people at higher altitudes suffer lower rates of obesity?) and that there are obviously individual genetic components that make us more or less susceptible to obesity, it’s an undeniable fact that diet and lifestyle are the most important factors when it comes to a person’s weight. How could it be otherwise? Semaglutide works by stopping you from eating, and your caloric needs then outweigh your intake, causing you to lose weight. The drug doesn’t alter your genetics.
The fundamental truth is, in the last hundred or so years, we in the developed world have undergone a profound transformation in the way we eat and live. We have effectively broken with the past and the lifestyles of our ancestors, who lived active lives—often of toil, for sure, but not always—and consumed diets overwhelmingly composed of natural whole foods. In the best instances, people in traditional societies such as those described by the famous dentist Weston Price in his 1939 book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” were able to flourish on rich diets of nutrient-dense animal foods—organ meat, fatty cuts, seafood, dairy, eggs, blood, and fat products such as butter and lard—and displayed a health and vitality that eludes all but the most fortunate of us today.
Now what do we eat? Processed foods loaded with refined grains, added sugars, toxic seed and vegetable oils—once thought fit to be used only as industrial lubricant—and a witch’s brew of colorings, flavorings, texturizers, and other additives. These foods have come to make up an increasingly large part of our diets over the last century, and the results have been disastrous.
British toddlers (children aged 2 to 5 years old), for example, now consume nearly two-thirds of their daily calories from processed food, according to a new study, making their diet perhaps the worst in the world among their age cohort. Toddlers in the United States don’t fare much better, with 58 percent of their calories coming from processed food.
Study after study has linked this kind of food with every possible ailment you could care to imagine, from autism to Alzheimer’s—and, of course, obesity. A BBC documentary from 2021, “What Are We Feeding Our Kids?” revealed that consuming processed food in typical quantities for just a month can actually rewire the brain’s pleasure and automatic-behavior centers in the manner we might expect of a drug addict, in addition to causing weight gain, anxiety, loss of libido, hemorrhoids, and a wide variety of other nasty problems. These worrying brain alterations persist even if you stop eating processed food.
The addictiveness of processed food is not a side effect; it’s by design. Armies of highly paid food scientists labor day and night to ensure processed-food products are “hyper-palatable,” hitting the “bliss point” where qualities like crunchiness, sweetness, and saltiness are perfectly balanced. The food is easy and, most of all, satisfying to eat. Indeed, one study shows that we eat processed food 20 to 30 percent faster than unprocessed food: We barely have to chew it. As a result, our bodies’ natural mechanisms to signal fullness don’t have time to catch up, and we eat far more of this calorie-dense junk than we should.
Manufacturers of processed food love it not just because it is highly addictive and people can’t stop eating it, but also because it’s extremely cheap and easy to make. All processed food is made from the same basic ingredients: things like corn meal, soy meal, refined wheat, partially hydrogenated vegetable or seed oil, meat, and protein meal. All that really differs from one type to the next are the ratios of ingredients. With just a few ingredients, you can create virtually any processed food you want, from dog kibble to Twinkies and everything in between.
A handmaiden to this fundamental change in our diets has been the creeping medicalization of our societies. The perils of surrendering more and more control to the medical profession have been thrown into the starkest of contrast by events of the last three years, but medicalization and its negative effects, otherwise known as “iatrogenesis,” are virtually everywhere we care to look in our lives today. We see iatrogenesis at work in the baby whose mother has been told by “experts” to feed it soy formula rather than her breast milk, a substitution which, in effect, will prepare the baby for a lifestyle of consuming processed alternatives to the perfect natural foods we should be eating. We see iatrogenesis, too, in the massive over-prescription of antidepressants, pain pills, and blood pressure medication to cope with the debilitating effects of a diet and lifestyle that are radically at odds with those of our ancestors.
By surrendering to the logic of ad-hoc treatment, we concede that the underlying problems, whatever they may be, can’t be solved. This is exactly what Ozempic/Wegovy is: yet another concession that we lack the will to confront our problems today as they really are. Of course, massive entrenched interests in the food and medical industries, which hold powerful sway over government, confront anybody who would dare to suggest a wholesale change to the way we live and eat. A month’s supply of semaglutide can cost around $1,000 in the United States, and many users will likely have to remain on the drug indefinitely to keep the weight off if they’re not prepared to make any other changes to their lifestyle. Just imagine: tens of millions of overweight people hooked on this expensive drug for decades. What a proposition for the shareholders!
The shareholders will profit, but it will be at our expense. By ignoring the root causes of obesity, we will be no closer to real health than we were before, however much less some of us may weigh.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.