You'll all remember when reality TV star Kim Kardashian wore that Marilyn Monroe dress to the Met Gala Awards back in May.
She dominated headlines for weeks, partly because many questioned whether she may have damaged the historically significant dress, but also because she spoke candidly about having lost 16 pounds to fit into the iconic piece.
Details of how she lost the weight weren't disclosed at the time - yet, many now believe she took a much darker route than simply following a calorie-controlled diet. Several news outlets, including The Daily Mail and Vice, have reported that she turned to a diabetes drug called Ozempic, the brand name for semaglutide, a drug that aids those with diabetes in stimulating insulin and regulating blood sugar.
There are 439.7 million views on Tiktok posts under the hashtag #Ozempic, and on Instagram, multiple accounts come up with handles like “My Ozempic weight loss journey”. Search for the drug has been steadily rising since Kim wore the dress - it's currently at breakout in the UK, meaning more people than ever are searching for it - among rumours that use of the drug specifically for drastic weight loss is one of "Hollywood's best kept secrets."
Since we originally published this article, a variation of the drug called Wegovy has been approved for over-the-counter sale in the UK, and it's now being heavily marketed in the weight loss section at Boots. All you need to do is complete an online health questionnaire.
Diet fads and quick-fix weight loss scams have circulated for years - thankfully, in recent times, largely debunked by qualified experts who reassure that healthy living doesn't need to be about pills, shakes, or restricting what you eat.
But with celebrities including Khloe Kardashian and Mindy Kaling reported to be spending between $1000 to $1,500 a month on the drug to maintain a slimmer physique, we ask: when is too far? And when will celebrities stop glorifying potentially health-risking procedures in order to look a certain way aesthetically?
Marie Claire UK spoke to three qualified experts to get their take.
Ozempic for weight loss is 2023's biggest problem - here's why
According to registered nutritionist Uta Boellinger and as above, the drug was designed for use by patients with type 2 diabetes. "If you have type 2 diabetes, your body is no longer able to adequately regulate blood sugar levels due to lack of insulin sensitivity," she shares.
This is where Ozempic comes in, as Doctor Louisa Beckford, Consultant Psychiatrist at Orri eating disorder centre explains, a drug manufactured by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.
"It's normally injected once per week by those with type 2 diabetes to improve blood sugar and lower the risk of major cardiovascular events, such as stroke, heart attack or death in adults with heart disease," she details.
So, why the sudden spike in celebrities using it for weight loss? Well, while its goal is to lower the health risks associated with type 2 diabetes, a side effect of the drug is weight loss - and quite significant weight loss, at that.
A bit of background. "When Ozempic was first used, doctors and scientists noticed that patients who had been prescribed the drug appeared to be losing significant amounts of weight," Boellinger continues. "Studies confirmed this phenomenon - one of the drug's side-effects is that it helps people feel fuller for longer, reducing cravings and appetite."
Case in point - a 2021 clinical trial monitored 1961 adults with a BMI of over 30 for 68 weeks. "It found that the group of patients taking semaglutite had a 14.9% loss in body weight when combined with a healthy diet and exercise, compared with 2.4% loss in those prescribed a placebo," shares Beckford.
It's suddenly in the headlines partly because another brand of semaglutide, called Wegovy, was approved to treat obesity in the US in 2021 and the UK in 2022. "After a stock shortage in Wegovy, doctors started prescribing Ozempic for weight loss, causing a sudden increase in sales," she continues.
In short, a variation of the drug is being prescribed by US and UK doctors to help those who are classified as obese lose weight and reduce risk factors associated with being overweight.
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A moral conundrum
As the drug was first rolled out as a treatment for weight management for people whose obesity puts them at risk of weight-related comorbidities such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and so on, there wasn't as much media attention - yet, gradually since then, the drug has garnered widespread interest and coverage.
Why? Simply because, while many of the accounts online seem to be overweight individuals documenting their journey with the drug after being prescribed it by a qualified medical professional, others seem to be using it to lose weight from an already "healthy" starting point.
Even if we do believe that weight loss drugs can help obese individuals lose weight - which, by their move to prescribe the drug, it's clear the NHS does - what happens when those who fall within a "normal" weight start taking it?
Many appear to be forking out for the drug themselves, with reports showing they're spending anything from $1000 to $1500 a month. Some Tiktok users are even claiming to be making their own at home concoctions of the drug to see quick fix results without the price tag.
It's important to note, too, that all of the celebrities reported to be using the drug for its weight loss benefits have what would be considered a healthy BMI, and appear to be using it to supplement even further weight loss - in Kim's case, reportedly to fit into a dress for a red carpet appearance.
Risk vs reward
It's scarily easy to purchase Ozempic online without a prescription - in the UK, you can purchase it from Boots where it's advertised as a “weight loss drug” primarily - but it goes without saying that doing so may pose a whole heap of risks.
"The manufacturer themselves warn of mild symptoms, such as nausea and stomach pain, to more serious issues spanning inflammation of the pancreas, thyroid tumours and even cancer," shares Boellinger. One immediate risk could also be hypoglycaemia (otherwise known as low blood sugar) if the drug is misused or administered incorrectly, she adds.
Beckford agrees, adding that you could also experience kidney failure, gallbladder problems, and changes in vision.
Her two cents? "The fame surrounding Ozempic is concerning. It suggests a normalisation of a drastic measure to lose weight, which may encourage other pharmaceutical companies to want their slice."
Not to mention the fact that, if you're prescribed Ozempic for weight loss, you may lose the weight and then put it back on when you come off the drug, stresses Boellinger. "It isn't a long-term solution," she shares. "One Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism study published last year found that once you stop using Wegovy, you are likely to see a speedy return of the weight you have lost."
Shortages are already affecting those who rely on the drug
We all face pressure to maintain a certain body image, but the Ozempic craze is about so much more than that, already seriously impacting those with diabetes and who rely on the drug via prescription.
Novo Nordisk, the suppliers of Ozempic, first warned of "supply constraints due to an unprecedented demand" in August last year, shares Boellinger. "This is extremely concerning for those who depend on the drug to manage their blood sugar levels for medical reasons," she shares. "Type 2 diabetes, if not managed properly, can have severe consequences including blindness or loss of limbs due to nerve damage - long term, it can result in death. GPs were even advised to proactively contact patients relying on Ozempic and where possible prescribe alternatives."
Beckford agrees, stressing that there have been "significant shortages" in the UK causing those with type 2 diabetes to struggle to access the drug from their pharmacies.
If you're prescribed it for weight loss, it's after a consultation with a medical professional who deems your weight such a risk factor, it's vital for you to lose weight to stay alive. "There are strict guidelines for its use and clinical criteria need to be met before it can be prescribed," she stresses. "Shortages of Ozempic could also affect this group of people who can struggle to access treatments for obesity."
it is so so so dystopian that people who have type 2 diabetes can’t get ozempic, a life saving medication, because it’s back ordered by celebrities who are literally having ozempic partiesDecember 23, 2022
Why as a society are we constantly striving for the next quick fix?
Good question - and one that Rhiannon Lambert, a nutritionist and eating disorders specialist, is passionate about.
"Unfortunately, the science isn’t sexy and sustainable weight loss takes time, which is why many choose to take more extreme routes such as diet pills or injections," she explains.
She goes on to explain that these products are often unregulated and that, at current, we simply don’t know what the longer-term health impacts of taking them for weight loss.
So, why is the Ozempic craze so worrying? And will the hype around Ozempic influence a new wave of diet pills and quick fixes? Short answer: most likely.
It's a wider issue, and once more highlights that all genders, but women in particular, are hugely pressured to look and act in a certain way to "fit in." "Drugs like Ozempic prey on people’s vulnerabilities, exacerbating the expectations within society to look an “ideal” shape or size," shares Lambert.
Boellinger agrees, adding that as a nutritionist she finds it "seriously worrying."
"We're working so hard to move away from diet culture and educate people on how to actually improve their health - skinny does not equal healthy and using or promoting drugs like Ozempic which only focus on weight loss regardless of the effects on health really sends the wrong message," she adds.
As a Health Editor, I find it so disheartening. When will the obsession with being skinny stop? And when will we accept that self love and acceptance is far more important than looking a certain way, or reaching a certain number on the scales?
Actress and presenter Jameela Jamil agrees, adding in a passionate statement on her Instagram that she "fears for everyone." "Rich people are buying this stuff off prescription for upwards of $1,000. Actual diabetes are seeing shortages. It's now a mainstream craze in Hollywood."
"I'm deeply concerned but I can't change any of your minds because fatphobia has our generation in a chokehold," she added.
Beckford adds that the drug capitalises on a deep-seated sense of insecurity that many of us have in who we are and how we understand our place in the world. " Our physical body is a scapegoat for more fundamental or existential difficulties we may come up against in day-to-day life," she explains.
The main problem with trends such as these, she adds, is that they are "inconsistent, transient, and arbitrary" - you'll all remember the clean eating cut-everything-out trend of 2016 which led to thousands if not millions of eating disorders globally, and the Special K diet and Atkins diet before that. "Trends suggest a global "buy in", meaning that those that don’t see themselves fitting in, may turn the blame inwards," details the psychiatrist.
This, in turn, can lead to unhealthy and dangerous behaviours in order to fit the narrative – for instance, restricting your diet or compensating for your food through exercise or purging. "Research has demonstrated the strong link between social media use, negative body image and eating disorder symptoms," she adds.
For now, know this - you don't need to lose weight, change the way you look, or spend excessive amounts on drugs to fit in. You are perfect as you are. Let's hope the worrying craze goes away as quickly as it came about.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
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