Beware health ministers bearing miracle weight-loss solutions. Last week, an injection that apparently helped Kim Kardashian lose 16 pounds so she could fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress at last year’s Met Gala was approved for use by the NHS in England.
Semaglutide, which makes you feel full so that you eat less, and is said to help people lose over 10 per cent of their body weight, is apparently being lined up by Steve Barclay as a way to help fight obesity without resorting to “nanny state” tactics. Officials in the health department are hoping to persuade the Treasury to shoulder the costs of the injections by arguing that they will get millions of people with joint problems and illnesses caused by obesity back to work.
What’s not to love about this plan? Shove a needle in your belly once a week, solve the obesity crisis, and fit into frocks beloved of reality TV stars!
But if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is: see also Oxycontin, sold to the US as a miracle pain killer, one that turned out to be so addictive that it is held responsible for the opioid crisis that is estimated to have killed almost one million Americans since 1999.
Semaglutide is used in the diabetes drug Ozempic. Celebrities and influencers have been using it off-licence, privately, as a way to lose weight, leading to a shortage of the drug for people who need it in their battle with type 2 diabetes. It can cost up to £1,000 a month, and is available from the same places you might go to get Botox injected into your face. Now, it will be available for free on the NHS under the name Wegovy, for morbidly obese people with at least one condition such as high blood pressure.
There is, of course, a catch. Semaglutide appears to work largely because it makes you feel too sick to eat, and as soon as you stop taking it, the hunger-suppression goes. In a fascinating piece last week in the online magazine Slate, one anonymous woman wrote about her experiences of taking Ozempic for weight-loss purposes.
“After that first shot, I felt vaguely nauseated, but it was much better than the other meds I’d tried. But after a few months, I was bumped up to a higher dose because I plateaued. That day, I wasn’t able to move,” she wrote.
“Now I’m learning about my body’s limits from square one. If I eat too much or eat the wrong thing or have more than two glasses of wine, I may be sick. For one day, maybe even two. And not just nauseated, but the kind of sickness where you’re unable to get up from the toilet and have to throw up in your sink and then spend the whole day unclogging that sink.”
The manufacturers of semaglutide list side effects including diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation. In a world still obsessed with thin, all of these things are more easily tolerated than the crime of being fat.
But you cannot have a serious discussion about the obesity crisis if you’re not willing to talk about our bloated junk food industry, or the prevalence of ultra processed food (UPF) that has turned nutritional sustenance into something every bit as addictive as Oxycontin. UPFs are everywhere, and not just in your local fast food branch – they are the price we are being forced to pay for our obsession with supposedly-cheap convenience culture.
Of course we are getting bigger – we sit in front of screens all day and don’t have to toil in fields from dusk til dawn to make a living. So often, obesity is seen as a personal failing, but really it is just a symptom of a much bigger problem, which is that we live in a world where we all want more while having to do less. Quick fixes, miracle jabs and wonder drugs are the order of the day.
As someone who has been fat and has been thin and now sits somewhere in between, let me tell you: there is no such thing as a short cut.
There is no magic diet or drug that will make you look like Kim Kardashian on the red carpet at the Met Gala, no miraculous injection that will save the NHS. There is only really this: the knowledge that Shortcut Society is making us very, very sick, and that if we want to get better, it’s going to take a whole lot more than an injection pen marketed on Instagram.