December 1, 2023

It’s the weight loss trend everyone is buzzing about, with TikTok influencers showing off their dramatic results. But now there’s a shortage of the diabetes medication used to do it. 

Linh Bui spoke with an obesity specialist about the drug, and who should really be using it.

All over TikTok, you’ll see weight loss journeys with exciting claims, and stunning before-and-after pictures. Influencers are bragging about losing weight thanks to a prescription medication that’s become a viral trend.

Ozempic is FDA approved for use to treat Type Two Diabetes. The medication can improve blood sugar and manage the risk of major cardiovascular events. But it’s getting attention because it can also cause weight loss.

Pat Roach was prescribed Ozempic for her diabetes in March of last year. 

“I started as 188 pounds. I’m down to 154 now,” she says.

Another prescription medication called Wegovy contains the same compound as Ozempic, semaglutide. And last year, the FDA approved Wegovy for chronic weight management in adults with obesity.  When recently asked about the secret to his fitter figure, billionaire Elon Musk tweeted “fasting and Wegovy.”

“I would ask everybody to take this with a grain of salt,” says Dr. Sadaf Mustafa of MedStar Health. “This medication should be used after you have a proper discussion with your provider.”

Dr. Mustafa is an obesity specialist and says off-label prescriptions have gone up. That’s the unapproved use of an approved drug. Right now, there is a worldwide shortage of both Ozempic and Wegovy, which is expected to last into next year.

“Manufacturing went down,” Dr. Mustafa says. “Usage went up, not only in diabetic population but also non-diabetic population. And also people with other metabolic problems, not diabetes.”

Dr. Mustafa says Ozempic can, at most, cause a 14-pound weight loss, while Wegovy can help shed 35 pounds. And you must also make lifestyle changes, diet and exercise. 

“This is not an easy fix,” she says. “Obesity is a chronic disease.”

For Roach, that means daily water aerobics and counting calories.

“I can tell in my clothes, you know,” Roach says. “I went down a size.”

Baltimoreans we talk to say it’s not about following trends, but putting in the work.

“I think that sounds kinda crazy. The thought process of just taking a shot and trying to lose weight. Like there’s an easy button,” says Steve Baker.

“Maybe you will lose some weight. But you know what’s even better than that? Being strong. Being able to do real push-ups. Being able to do actual curls. Being able to touch your toes. That stuff outweighs whatever the scale says,” says Melissa Buckley.

We contacted Novo Nordisk, the healthcare company behind Ozempic and Wegovy. They sent us this statement:

  • Ozempic® (semaglutide) is FDA-approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, to improve blood sugar, along with diet and exercise, and reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease. It was clinically researched and studied in patients with type 2 diabetes. Ozempic® is not approved for chronic weight management, nor is it intended to be used as a lifestyle medication.
  • Wegovy® (semaglutide) is FDA-approved for chronic weight management in adults with obesity (BMI > 30), or overweight (excess weight) (BMI > 27) who also have weight-related medical problems, used with a reduced-calorie meal plan and increased physical activity. It is not intended to be used as a lifestyle medication, nor has it been studied for this.
  • Although Wegovy® and Ozempic® both contain semaglutide, they are different products with different indications, dosages, titration schedules, and delivery devices. The products are not interchangeable and should not be used outside of their approved indications. Until supply of all dose strengths of Wegovy® has stabilized, alternative FDA-approved medications for chronic weight management are available.
  • Both of these medicines are available by prescription only.

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