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Oprah Tackles Perception of Obesity Treatment as “Vanity” and Lack of Access: “How Do We Fix This?”

The pervasive belief that weight loss injectables are simply vanity drugs, fueled by its widespread use among celebrities and social media personalities, was addressed head on in a follow-up segment to Monday night’s An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution now streaming on Hulu.

“It’s really important for us to understand responsible use and understand where these drugs are indicated, because we’re all on social media. You’ll hear type II diabetics, for example, say, ‘I can’t get my Ozempic because people just want to lose weight and it’s vanity,’ we know that that’s misinformation,” said Negelle Morris, a senior vice president for Novo Nordisk, which manufactures weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy. “We do really advocate for appropriate use as they’re indicated.”

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There are real issues with access to popular drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro and Zepbound, however, which was the focus of After the Show: A Weight Loss Revolution, in which the conversation shifted from the emotional barriers to weight loss drug use discussed in Oprah Winfrey’s ABC special to the practical issues.

“How do we fix this?” Winfrey asked a panel of physician and pharmaceutical experts who admitted the answer is complex.

“We’re seeing an inequity at the basic and most simplistic way,” said, Dr. W. Scott Butsch, director of obesity medicine in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “People who need medications that are highly effective don’t have a chance of getting them.”

One reason for that is the surge in demand for weight loss injectables in the past year alone, given their reported efficacy. The other is the high out-of-pocket costs for such treatments which currently aren’t covered by insurance.

“We don’t think of the downstream effects of the benefits,” Butsch said, noting the positive trickle-down effects of reducing obesity, including less burden on the healthcare system overall. “We’re so fixated on the upfront costs. You see insurance companies not cover it, states not cover it, Medicare and Medicaid not cover it.

“If you don’t believe obesity is a disease and you’re running a policy plan, how are you going to convince your members who are making those decisions,” he asked, explaining insurance companies’ resistance to covering weight loss medications. “You’re going to say, ‘Why should we bother giving a drug to somebody who should just eat less?’”

It’s because of such ideologies that Morris is seeking a reframing of the way weight loss drugs are not only thought about but talked about.

“I don’t really like to say ‘weight loss medications’ because I think that a lot of people think of weight loss as something we’ve been doing all of these years without understanding the underlying disease,” she said, noting losing pounds isn’t the only important benefit of such drugs, as she pointed out there are more than 60 chronic conditions linked to obesity. “We’re talking about not only, how do we continue to drive obesity treatment? But also, how are we preventing obesity to begin with?”

In the midst of answering audience questions about dosing, side effects and the effectiveness of the current class of approved weight loss drugs on the market, Morris also emphasized the importance of medical supervision when considering treatment.

“Everyone who had story a today, their health history is different which is why we need specialists,” she said. “Make sure you’re talking to a doctor you can trust.”

Interest in this area is only expected to rise as experts teased what they consider to be the “new wave of innovation” in the space. Triple G, a drug currently undergoing clinical trials, has been shown to be able to reduce users’ weight by 25 percent in just 48 weeks, indicating medical treatments for obesity, which, despite the immediate interest experts noted have been in existence for the past 20 years, are certainly here to stay. The same may also be true of Winfrey’s interest in continuing discussions around such drugs.

“I hope this helps everybody see it in a different light and also helps you to spread the word about the shaming and the blaming,” she said, concluding the after show special.

“That’s what we’re trying to shift in the culture right now, and it’s not going to be this one show or the show we did on the ‘The State of Weight,’ it’s going to be a decade,” Winfrey added with one final declaration: “I need to do more shows.”

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