November 28, 2023

The Current24:08Ozempic, stigma and weight loss culture

The shame and stigma attached to body size and obesity has crept into the use of weight-loss medications like Ozempic, says a woman who has struggled with her weight for years. 

“People have very strong opinions about people who aren’t able to lose weight … [they] just think people that are overweight are lazy and not trying to do anything,” said Edmonton woman Raegan Sather.

Sather has tried several things to lose weight over the last decade, from working out with a personal trainer to putting herself on strict diets. But she only got the results she wanted when she started taking Ozempic last summer.

“Don’t think that people on this drug haven’t tried everything else to do that. This is just a really great tool to help us,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway. 

Ozempic, the brand name for the generic drug Semaglutide, is officially used to treat diabetes. It imitates a hormone that promotes insulin production, but became popular among celebrities and social media influencers for its other ability: managing appetite. It can be prescribed off label for weight loss in Canada — though experts have warned it’s not a quick fix

WATCH | Ozempic for weight loss: What’s known about the potential and the risks:

Ozempic for weight loss: What’s known about the potential and the risks

Questions are swirling around the use of semaglutide, commonly sold under the brand name Ozempic, for weight loss. CBC’s Christine Birak explores the risks and benefits of off-label uses of the drug, which is traditionally used to treat Type 2 diabetes.

But that stigma around weight loss has meant that some celebrities — and some ordinary Canadians — take the medication in secret. On a recent TV show, comedian Amy Schumer called out Hollywood stars obfuscating their sudden weight loss. 

“Everyone’s lying, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, smaller portions!’ — like shut the f–k up, you’re on Ozempic,” she told talk show host Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live.

For Sather, the impact of taking the medication has been “life-changing.” But she says she doesn’t see it as a magic weight-loss medication, but rather as a tool to help her make healthier choices.

She thinks more open conversations about using it that way could help fight the stigma. 

“I think, you know, if a celebrity were to come out and admit that they’re using it to help them, it would go a long way,” she said.

“But instead, they’re allowing that voice of shame to overtake that, unfortunately.”

‘A fatphobic society’

Health Canada has noted an increased demand for Ozempic — but not everyone who lives in what society considers a larger body thinks taking Ozempic is the right path for them.

Joanie Pietracupa said her doctor has offered her the drug on two or three occasions. 

She wasn’t interested, but the physician added a note to Pietracupa’s file in case she changed her mind. 

“I didn’t even ask for it, you know, and I got it prescribed, so I was very surprised,” said Pietracupa, a journalist in Montreal. 

Pietracupa says she’s wary of the side-effects that some people who take Ozempic experience, including nausea, dehydration and constipation or diarrhea.

A blue needle with the brand name "Ozempic" on the side is pictured in a man's hand.
Ozempic, the brand name for the generic drug Semaglutide, is officially used to treat diabetes. (Shutterstock)

But she also thinks her doctor’s repeated offers say something about attitudes toward bigger bodies.

“I feel like we live in such a fatphobic society. And being thin, regardless of your health status, might be more important than anything else for a lot of people,” she said.

She said that as long as she’s healthy, she doesn’t see why she should be made to hate her body.

“I love my body, and I’m comfortable in it. And I love what it does for me,” she said.

She said she understands why some people may choose Ozempic or a similar drug, and doesn’t judge their choices. 

“But I don’t feel like I need to,” she said. “And I wouldn’t feel like Ozempic teaches me anything about also, like, portions or lifestyle changes or anything.”

WATCH | Ozempic: TikTok’s fixation and the diet culture cycle:

Ozempic: TikTok’s fixation and the diet culture cycle

Jan. 19, 2023 | Ozempic, a drug used to help treat Type 2 diabetes, has soared in popularity thanks to a side-effect — appetite suppression. Andrew Chang explores how celebrity weight loss, diet culture and social media have further fueled the demand.

A tool to ‘make better choices’

In 2007, Ottawa woman Kerry Toneguzzi lost 100 pounds after weight loss surgery, but gained it all back. She’s now taking Ozempic, and lost 115 pounds over two years. 

She rejects the idea that taking Ozempic is somehow “an easy way out.”

“I think that you have to really take a look at what you’re doing and really dig deep,” she told The Current.

“You really have to take accountability for your actions.”

Patients who come off Ozempic are warned it’s likely they’ll gain weight back, once it’s no longer in their systems to help suppress appetite. Toneguzzi expects she will be taking the drug for the rest of her life, in tandem with other measures to help manage her weight.

LISTEN | Use of Ozempic to treat obesity prompts both excitement and concern:

The Current19:40Use of Ozempic to treat obesity prompts both excitement and concern

Speaking to The Current in January, Dr. Ali Zentner said it’s important to remember that “obesity is a hormonal imbalance.”

“It’s a chronic disease, just like depression or type two diabetes or hypertension, I would argue,” said Zentner, a Vancouver-based specialist in internal medicine, diabetes and obesity. Zentner has also worked as a paid consultant for Novo Nordisk, the company that manufactures Ozempic. 

She said her patients have been “dieting for decades — they’re experts at it.” 

“It’s not a function of what they’re doing. It’s a function of their biology,” she said. 

Before he started taking weight-loss medications, Hartley Macklin said he lost weight on many, many diets — only to gain it all back again. 

He’s aware that being overweight can become a bigger health complication for people as they get older. 

“When they do become unhealthy — which will come about because of old age perhaps — [it’ll] be easier to treat … that illness if they’re less weight,” said Macklin, from Winnipeg.

Sather said Ozempic can be a helpful tool, “but you still have to choose what food you’re putting in your mouth.”

“You can make better choices … [but] it still takes work to make those choices and to do those types of things.”


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