Ozempic: The answer to obesity, or an easy way out?

3 min read

Ozempic: The answer to obesity, or an easy way out?
Dr Max asks whether Ozempic could offer a solution to a growing obesity problem, or if it cures the symptoms without addressing the root cause 
By the end of the decade, obesity will be a bigger cause of liver failure than alcohol. It is estimated that obesity currently costs the country £58 billion a year. To put that in perspective, that’s just under a third of the entire NHS budget. The WHO has warned that two-thirds of women and three-quarters of men will be overweight by 2030. They warned that we are facing an “enormous” crisis if it’s not tackled.
In the past few months though, there has been a glimmer of hope in the fight against obesity: semaglutide. This medication has actually been around for several years under the trade name Ozempic. It was developed for diabetes and is similar to a naturally occurring hormone in the body called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1). It is injected once a week and helps to stabilise people’s blood sugar levels, but researchers also noticed that it helped people lose weight. It has now been licensed for obesity under the name Wegovy.  
"In the past few months, there has been a glimmer of hope in the fight against obesity"
The drug acts like a hormone in the brain which causes people to feel less hungry and slows the clearing of food from the stomach—spurring weight loss. This medication—along with others that are being developed—offers real hope to those who have struggled with weight loss. I know, because I’ve seen it first-hand.  
For many years I worked in an eating disorder service, and part of my job was assessing patients with obesity who were waiting for bariatric surgery. Most were not eligible and aside from surgery, there was little we could offer them. We would have to discharge the patient back to their GP with advice on healthy eating and exercise. It was heartbreaking because many were tormented by their weight but felt helpless and powerless to do anything about it and yet when they asked for help, there was little the NHS had to offer.  
Then, a few years ago, patients started telling me about semaglutide. Some started getting it privately and I have to say, the results were startling. Since then I’ve had more and more patients taking the drug. It has sometimes been quite emotional seeing patients on their weight loss journey with it. People who have struggled with their weight all their life have shed the pounds apparently effortlessly. They simply don’t feel particularly hungry and don’t crave the food they used to. It’s been a game-changer. 

What are Ozempic's limitations?

This doesn’t mean it’s a panacea though. There’s no doubt that it’s not right for everyone. It doesn’t address people’s underlying relationship with food. Some people are using food for psychological reasons and of course there’s no way an injection will help with this. These people will continue to need emotional and psychological support.
Woman in gym doing exercise for weight loss - Ozempic and obesity
As with any medication, it also has side effects. The most common—nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion and tiredness—do tend to improve over time, but it varies in person to person and some might not be able to tolerate them.
People also have to be careful about low blood sugar levels, which can make them feel very tired while on the drug. Others have noticed that the weight loss results in them looking too gaunt as they lose fat in their faces. There's also the risk that, once the medication is stopped, the weight can be put back on.
"Rather than a magic bullet, I tend to see it as giving people the kick-start they need to address their weight"
Rather than a magic bullet, I tend to see it as giving people the kick-start they need to address their weight and take up regular exercise and healthy eating. This is really the key to sustained and healthy weight loss. At the moment, it's hard to get hold of and expensive. I am so convinced that his medication offers real hope to those struggling with being overweight I have recently founded a start-up (getslimmr.co.uk) with the aim of offering a simple, no-frills service to keep costs low to allow as many people as possible who need the drug to access it.
For years there have been public health campaigns encouraging people to eat healthy and exercise, but despite all this, the rates of obesity have continued to rise. What we are doing simply isn’t working. This new medication is, I passionately believe, the future of weight loss.
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