The six reasons I won't stop taking Ozempic

Six reason I’ll defy the fat-shamers and WON’T stop taking Ozempic: DAVID AARONOVITCH defends the controversial weight loss drug from the skinny brigade

  • David Aaronovitch says he lost weight without having to diet on Ozempic
  • READ MORE: We can’t get our diabetes jabs like Ozempic – because so many obese Brits are using them for weight loss

Down at the pharmacy they’ve been out of Ozempic (a brand name for the injectable drug semaglutide) for three weeks now and they have no idea when it’ll be back in again. 

If the situation doesn’t change then, pretty soon, I will be finding out whether people who stop injecting simply pile the weight back on.

Increasingly, I can’t help feeling that there’s a pulse of slim folk who will be secretly happy if that’s what happens.

Let me take as my first text a column written by Matthew Parris last autumn. 

Parris, who I have known for the best part of 40 years, has never been anything other than wiry and slim. He ran sub-three-hour marathons when he was an MP. I don’t imagine he has ever seriously had to think about his weight.

His column noted that while smoking deaths and illnesses had plummeted in recent years, problems related to obesity had soared. 

David Aaronovitch says when he got hold of Ozempic he lost weight without having to diet, which people did not like

Parris’s proposition, summed up in the headline – Fat shaming is the only way to beat the obesity crisis – was that since applying stigmas to smoking had worked to reduce the practice, then so too would applying stigmas to…

Well, to what exactly? Eating? Should snacking be banned from offices and relegated to benches outside? 

Munching crisps on station platforms prohibited? So, in the absence of any detail, I had to assume that his solution was to stigmatise actually being obese. People, he wrote, shouldn’t ‘feel comfortable about being overweight. We have to feel able to say so.’ 

A sad duty, but someone has to do it. Quite often the bloke in the van who nearly runs you over on a zebra crossing.

You do have to wonder where Parris has been all these years. Fat shaming never went away. And it clearly doesn’t do any good. 

Partly because although it is mostly (though not absolutely) true that ‘eating too much’ is the cause of obesity, what leads some people to need to eat too much is a far more complex question, and one where our understanding has been advancing in recent times. 

Heritability clearly plays a part, as does endocrinology. I single out Parris because he is such an articulate and intelligent expresser of a view that is widely shared (not least by overweight people themselves). 

When I wrote in February about my experience on Ozempic, the private emails I received were mostly from people desperate to try it. 

The public comments under the piece were entirely the opposite: why should the NHS have to subsidise bailing out fatties when all they have to do is change their lifestyles? Why don’t YOU do what I do? What I did? The virtue-signalling was frantic.

Before Ozempic came along, apart from bariatric surgery, the only remedy for chronic overweightness was diet and exercise. 

The weight-loss industry is worth billions and essentially operates on the same principle as gyms – looked at in the big picture, they are not sustainable. If even a few of them did work permanently, then all the others would soon be out of business.

In 2005 I went on the Pritikin diet after a visit to their famous longevity and weight-loss spa in Florida. I bought into their whole schtick. In 2006 I ran a sub-4½ hour marathon. 

Before Ozempic came along, apart from bariatric surgery, the only remedy for chronic overweightness was diet and exercise

But the diet was so onerous and the exercise so time-consuming I could not keep it up. 

In the absence of any other possible treatment, I accepted the notion that this was my fault; that I lacked the ‘willpower’ to keep my calorie consumption down for any great length of time. 

So, I yo-yoed. It was as though my body was willing me to reach a certain weight and, eventually, I would oblige it.

Then I got hold of Ozempic and I lost weight without having to diet. And a whole lot of people really didn’t like it.

Their objections fell into one (or several) of the following camps…

It undermines personal responsibility

This argument supposes that because someone on the drug need not watch how much they eat or increase their exercise levels in order to lose weight, once they come off the drug they will go back to ‘bad’ habits of greed and sloth. Will they, though? It is much easier to exercise once you have lost some weight. Ever thought of that, folks?

It ‘medicalises’ a problem that should be dealt with naturally

Remember the arguments that once raged about giving statins to apparently well people to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol thus preventing future disease?

Given the efficacy of statins, their cheapness and the absence of any evidence of significant side effects, it always appeared to me that the objectors’ argument sprang from a misguided ‘naturalism’ which presumed that the totally unmodified human being is in some sense better than the one that has been supplemented. 

I am unsympathetic to this way of thinking. Even chimpanzees use tools.

It means huge profits for the manufacturers

And so it does. As did Viagra, another ‘repurposed’ drug which proved effective in dealing with a problem that also seemed largely intractable (there being no obvious painful diet or exercise regime available for that part of the body, outside some very esoteric, supposedly Eastern, practices). If companies are going to make lots of money, wouldn’t we prefer that they did it by coming up with products that do some good?

The weight-loss industry is worth billions and essentially operates on the same principle as gyms – looked at in the big picture, they are not sustainable, says David 

It diverts attention away from the real problem, which is the food industry

In April, Sarah Boseley, former health correspondent of The Guardian, wrote ‘skinny jabs may look like an easy fix… But a miracle jab it isn’t. 

Those weekly injections have to be combined with a low-calorie diet and exercise – which people already find difficult. Diets are no fun and the body resists starvation, so weight loss slows as time goes on. 

But, similarly, once people stop injecting these new drugs, the pounds can pile back on. People may have to stay on them for years, if not for life. We don’t yet know the consequences of that.’

Some of this is just wrong. Actually, the injections don’t have to be combined with low-calorie diets at all. Or with exercise. 

And yes, weight loss might slow down, but the weight loss figures for semaglutide are pretty dramatic. As to the consequences of years on the drug, well we do kind of know a bit, because some diabetics have been on them for half a decade. So far, so good.

It makes your face saggy

We have been hit by a proliferation of stories about how Ozempic-using people with sags where their rolls of fat used to be are now resorting to plastic surgery. Which is deeply satisfying to the weight-sadists.

Ignore them. If you lose a fair bit of weight, and you’re of an age when the skin has lost its youthful elasticity, you will sag, whatever means you use to slim. Think of the late Nigel Lawson who became facially unrecognisable decades before semaglutide was developed. 

Has anyone ever written a piece about face-sags after WeightWatchers? No. And yet sag they will have done.

It’s a physical treatment for a psychological problem

That doesn’t help explain to me why so many happy and well-adjusted people become overweight. 

Likewise, the health reasons for not being overweight are substantial; the pressures to lose weight are not entirely due to encountering the negative attitudes of people like Matthew Parris or the pressures of media or the fashion industry. Higher risk of death or incapacity are right up there for why men like me might want to shed a lot of weight.

From all the evidence and from experience, I see semaglutide as a good thing. That might change but my guess is that in ten years’ time we could be wondering why we delayed making it available to everyone and not just to those who, like me, could afford to pay for it. 

Not that affording it is the issue right now. Because they still don’t have any down at the pharmacy.

  • A longer version of this article can by found on David Aaronovitch’s Substack Notes from the Underground 

THE DOCTOR’S VIEW by Mail on Sunday’s Dr Ellie Cannon 

I wish there was, given the health problems obesity causes and the pressure on the NHS. From Atkins to gastric bands, Western society has spent decades seeking a quick fix for obesity, and it’s no surprise to me that Ozempic is now hailed as the solution.

But no medication, even paracetamol, comes without risks. Recently we’ve had a signal from Iceland of Ozempic being associated with a tiny number of people feeling suicidal: there’s not yet proof of a link, but it’s a clear reminder that everything can come with side effects. 

As a society we all really want this magic bullet, but that leads to some confirmation bias of seeking out only the good-news stories. Just because we want Ozempic to be the answer, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the problems we know it can cause.

Potential risks with Ozempic include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), kidney problems, eye problems and allergic reactions. 

Common side effects include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tiredness, so a minority of patients will experience these regularly. Side effects are always to be balanced against the value a medicine brings. 

Anyone starting on Ozempic should be counselled about those as well as the benefits.

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