I wish Bill Maher was a reader of this blog, because this post was stimulated by him. For Maher, who I argue has become an irritating purveyor of liberal myths, has an outdated view of people who are obese.
Here's how I put it in the above-linked post from last January.
Lastly, I can't disagree with Maher's often-stated point that obesity is a big problem in our country. He's correct that obesity is a risk factor if someone gets Covid. But it's a bit simplistic for Maher to say that all it takes for someone to lose weight is will power.
Meaning, just eat less and you'll lose weight. I've read about numerous scientific studies that show how some people have a natural, probably genetic, propensity to obesity. Sometimes a person's metabolism is out of whack, which makes it really tough for them to lose weight. Medication and surgery may be called for in some cases of obesity.
The March 27, 2023 issue of The New Yorker has an article that indicates that I'm right and Maher is wrong about obesity. In the print edition it was called The Ozempic Era: Will new medications change how we think about being fat and being thin?
The subtitle of the online version is even more direct about what Maher gets wrong about obesity: A popular, growing class of drugs for obesity and diabetes could, in an ideal world, help us see that metabolism and appetite are biological facts, not moral choices.
If that link doesn't work for you, here's a PDF file of the article.
Download Will Ozempic Change How We Think About Being Fat and Being Thin? | The New Yorker
Some excerpts from the article by Jia Tolentino, along with the illustration that accompanied it:
The ideal female body of the past decade, born through the godless alliance of Instagram and the Kardashian family, was as juicy and uncanny as a silicone-injected peach. Young women all over the Internet copied the shape—a sculpted waist, an enormous ass, hips that spread generously underneath a high-cut bikini—and also the face atop it, a contoured hybrid of recognizably human mannequin and sexy feline. This prototype was as technologically mediated as the era that produced it; women attained the look by injecting artificial substances, removing natural ones, and altering photographic evidence.
Dana Omari, a registered dietitian and an Instagram influencer in Houston, has accumulated a quarter of a million followers by documenting the blepharoplasties, breast implants, and Brazilian butt lifts of the rich and famous. Recently, she noticed that the human weathervanes of the social-media beauty standard were spinning in a new direction.
The Kardashians were shrinking. Having previously appropriated styles created by Black women, they were now leaning into a skinnier, whiter ideal. Kim dropped twenty-one pounds before the Met Gala, where she wore a dress made famous by Marilyn Monroe; Khloé, who has spoken in the past about struggling with her weight, posted fortieth-birthday photos in which she looked as slim and blond as a Barbie. All over Instagram, the wealthy and the professionally attractive were showing newly prominent clavicles and rib cages.
Last spring, Omari shared with her followers the open secret behind such striking thinness: the Kardashians and others, she insisted, were likely taking semaglutide, the active ingredient in the medication Ozempic. “This is the ‘diabetic shot’ for weight loss everyone’s been talking about,” she wrote. “Really good sources have told me that Kim and Khloé allegedly started on their Ozempic journey last year.” Omari was about to start taking a version of the medication herself.
Ozempic, which is manufactured by Novo Nordisk, is part of an expanding class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists, which have dramatically altered the treatment of diabetes and obesity. Ozempic is approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes—a condition that accounts for ninety per cent of all diabetes cases—and has been available since 2017. Its name is now shorthand for the entire category of weight-loss injections.
In 2021, Novo Nordisk received approval for Wegovy, which has the same active ingredient as Ozempic but comes with a higher maximum dose, as an anti-obesity drug. On a year-end earnings call in 2022, Novo Nordisk cited worldwide market growth of fifty per cent, with almost forty thousand new Wegovy prescriptions being written every week.
...A healthy body can generally signal to the brain when it has had enough food. But that signalling system can be faulty, or get injured. “One of the most important things about obesity, and something most people don’t understand, is that, in the process of gaining weight, the neural circuitry of the brain that regulates weight is damaged,” Dr. Louis Aronne, the director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center, at Weill Cornell Medicine, told me. (Aronne, like many other prominent practitioners of obesity medicine, has consulted on trials conducted by Novo Nordisk.)
“The hypothalamus shows signs of inflammation and injury,” he went on. The prevailing theory, he explained, is that “too many calories coming in too quickly damages nerves that respond to the hormones that control body weight.” One of these hormones is leptin, which is produced in body fat, and which signals to the brain that it’s time to stop eating. But, if you gain fat, the oversupply of leptin can cause your body to be desensitized to it, making your brain erroneously believe that you are starving.
“Your body tries to rebalance the system by slowing down the metabolism and increasing appetite,” Aronne said. After a person has gained enough weight to enter this cycle of metabolic misdirection, it becomes nearly impossible to lose that weight and keep it off long-term simply through diet and exercise. (About five per cent of people manage to do it.)
A well-known study followed contestants on “The Biggest Loser,” the weight-loss-competition show, and found that the contestants’ metabolisms slowed so drastically after their weight loss that nearly all of them regained what they’d lost. One contestant, who’d dropped an astonishing two hundred and thirty-nine pounds, soon regained a hundred, and then began gaining weight whenever he ate more than eight hundred calories less than the average amount recommended for a man his size.
...Omari, the Instagram-famous dietitian, is now off her compounded semaglutide, which she’d taken to shed some pandemic pounds. She was optimistic that she’d be able to maintain her weight, as she’d generally been able to do before. But, as I kept reminding Ozempic-curious friends, these medications were designed for chronic conditions, obesity and diabetes.
For people who are dealing with those conditions, Ozempic appears to create a path toward a healthy relationship to food. For those who aren’t, it might function more like an injectable eating disorder. As the side effects make clear, it’s not a casual thing to drastically alter your body’s metabolic process, and there is no large-scale data about the safety of these drugs when taken by people who are mainly interested in treating another chronic condition, the desire to be thin.
...Kaplan, a plastic surgeon, is better known on TikTok as @RealDrBae—in his videos, he wears navy scrubs monogrammed “dr bae” and talks to the camera as though it’s his partner in an absorbing conversation at an airport bar. He believes that more people—a lot more people—are going to start taking GLP-1 drugs soon.
He didn’t have in mind thin people who want to be thinner, he added; he was thinking about fat people who had been struggling with discomfort, with inconvenience, with social pressure all their lives, who might have lately felt encouraged to try to accept their heavier weight. He predicted that the Ozempic era would put an end to all that. “They’re no longer going to accept that they should just be happy with the body they have,” he said.