Diabetes and Obesity Drugs Are Going Viral On TikTok As a Quick Way to Lose Weight

Here's why that's problematic.

Ozempic TikTok
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TikTok is ablaze with videos of users sharing information about weight loss from using Wegovy and Ozempic — prescription drugs that have the same active ingredient, semaglutide. Videos with the hashtag #wegovy have more than 89 million views right now, and clips with #ozempic have more than 228 million — with related hashtags garnering additional millions of views.

Public figures have taken interest too. Elon Musk seemed to claim Wegovy (along with fasting) helps him look fit, according to a recent Twitter thread, while Andy Cohen tweeted his concerns about what happens after people stop taking Ozempic if using it for weight loss. To top it all off, rumors that Kim Kardashian used Ozempic to fit into her Met Gala gown are also circulating on the video platform.

While both drugs contain semaglutide, they were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for different reasons. Wegovy is approved to aid in weight loss in adults with deemed medically obese who have at least one weight-related medical problem, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, according to the FDA. Ozempic is approved to aid blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes, reports the FDA. Both are recommended to be used in addition to diet and exercise.

The drugs are part of a class called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists used to treat type-2 diabetes and medical obesity, which are effective in addressing these concerns, says John Morton, F.A.C.S., F.A.S.M.B.S., M.D., M.P.H., M.H.A., a Yale School of Medicine professor and the medical director for bariatric surgery for the Yale New Haven Health System. This class of drugs slows down gastric emptying, meaning food stays in your stomach longer than normal, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. They also stabilize your blood sugar by increasing the sensitivity of insulin receptors, he says.

With this in mind, it makes sense that Wegovy and Ozempic can help with weight loss. But that doesn't mean just anyone should be taking them.

"I always recommend that you take medications as they're intended," says Dr. Morton. "The drugs are created primarily for people who are diabetic and/or obese or overweight," he adds, so unless you fall in those categories, "you probably shouldn't be taking [them]."

There could be unintended consequences with inappropriate use, he adds. "It's very unclear what happens to people who are [not medically obese] or aren't diabetic who take the drugs," he says. "Theoretically it could drop people's blood sugar too much, and you have to be mindful of that." There are also known potential side effects of the drugs, including nausea and pancreatitis, adds Dr. Morton.

What's more, if you stop taking Wegovy or Ozempic, you're likely to regain the weight you lost. "By all accounts, it looks like you regain the weight pretty quickly," says Dr. Morton, comparing these drugs to medications for high blood pressure. For example, if you stay on blood pressure medication, your blood pressure will remain stable, but if you stop taking the medication, your blood pressure will shoot back up.

The problem goes one step beyond inappropriate use. Ozempic and Wegovy are both listed as "Currently in Shortage" on the FDA website. Causes behind the shortage include supply-chain issues, cited by Wegovy maker Novo Nordisk in an August 2022 statement

There are also issues due to a lack of insurance coverage for some patients who may need the drug. Right now, it's too expensive without coverage for many people who need it, says Dr. Morton. And it's problematic that people who might not need Wegovy or Ozempic for health reasons could be using the drugs for weight loss.

"They're preventing people [who] need it, who may be diabetic or who may be seriously overweight, from getting access to the medication," says Dr. Morton. "We should reserve [Wegovy and Ozempic] for people who need [them]," he adds.

Those who don't have a medical reason to take either of the drugs may consider more sustainable measures to lose weight, recommends Dr. Morton. "If you're trying to lose weight, I think it is important to make lifestyle changes around your choices for food, physical activity, getting enough sleep, stress management — all those things are important," he says.

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