Weight loss injections are attracting a huge amount of interest. It’s not just from people struggling with their weight who see them as a longed-for solution, but also from disreputable providers who are seeing them as a money-making opportunity and signing off prescriptions with no evidence that their customer is actually overweight. And then there are others who sadly seem to think it's appropriate to shame people with obesity for choosing a so-called ‘quick-fix’ instead of tackling what they regard as weak willpower in managing their weight properly.
But let’s get this straight
People struggling with obesity are not lazy or weak-willed – there are numerous underlying issues that contribute to weight problems that can’t just be managed by willpower alone; whether genetic, physiological or as a result of the food environment, marketing, poverty and so much more.
Obesity is an increasing issue for us as a nation, and for the NHS which is spending a large amount of time and money in managing the numerous health problems associated with it. They include many of the main causes of premature death and disability – heart disease, stroke and various types of cancer. And type 2 diabetes, which along with the earlier stage of pre-diabetes, is very closely linked to obesity and the high sugar, high-processed foods we eat, exacerbated by less exercise, more stress and all those other lifestyle factors that are hard to avoid. It underlies many health issues we know are more common in people with weight problems, and is being linked to even more. Just this week a study was published reinforcing the link between type 2 diabetes and some types of dementia.
Weight loss medication that helps our health
The new drugs that have been hitting the headlines were initially developed to treat diabetes, but a welcome side-effect was discovered – they seemed to reduce appetite and help weight-loss too. The drugs are almost completely the same as naturally occurring hormones produced in our gut that are associated with blood sugar balance.
As a result, Saxenda, a once-daily injection was approved for weight loss. Wegovy is a once-weekly version that is also licensed for weight loss alone, but release in the UK has frustratingly been delayed due to demand in the US.
So, using these drugs to reduce weight and manage the insulin resistance that underlies many cases of obesity and diabetes is a genuinely valuable medical intervention. That’s why they been approved by the NHS in selected cases.
But, they need to be prescribed by a medical practitioner who is treating a patient in the context of their whole physical and mental health, with proper advice and support – not just sold by a company trying to profit from desperate customers (we can’t call them patients as there is next-to-no healthcare in this transaction!) regardless of whether they actually have a weight and health problem at all.
Ozempic is NOT licensed for weight loss
Which brings me on to Ozempic. It is a version of Wegovy, and similar to Saxenda, but unlike them it is NOT licensed for obesity alone, but for management of diabetes. Yet, it is being increasingly “prescribed” to non-diabetics who are following the celebrity hype, and, as a result, diabetic medication is running low.
I don’t blame the individuals, who are often desperate for any solution, but using a less responsible provider also means they are more likely to run into problems later down the line when they stop medication and the weight recurs, as they haven’t been advised as to how to use it properly. Obesity is often a life-long condition and ‘quick-fix’ solutions rarely work, as I know from 20 years of working in the field.
Medication can be very useful
So, if you are struggling with weight and associated health issues, don’t be shamed into thinking that these new types of medication are cheating. They are incredibly useful in the right context and could revolutionise healthcare if they deliver on their weight-loss promises in a way that also supports general health, as they seem to. But, treat these drugs (and yourself) with the respect they deserve, to get the best benefit from them, in the same way you would treat other medicines.
Ensure you get a proper assessment and support
Ensure you get a proper assessment from a doctor who cares about you and your health and wants to support you to manage your weight long-term. That may include these drugs, but possibly other medications to optimise your health, as well as future advice on the many new drugs that will soon be available. And it should also include expert support and guidance on other factors that need addressing to ensure that weight loss and health is maintained long-term, without relying on these expensive drugs for any longer than necessary.
Remember too, that if you have more severe weight problems you are eligible for assessment on the NHS – something you should be informed of by any reputable provider before they take your money!