One in five use weight loss treatments without consulting doctor

One in five Brits take weight loss drugs without the advice of a doctor. (Getty Images)
One in five Brits take weight loss drugs without the advice of a doctor. (Getty Images)

One in five adults have used a weight loss treatment, such as diet pills or injections like Ozempic, without consulting a doctor, new research has revealed.

The study, of 2,003 adults, found 29% bought the treatment on illegitimate sites, while a quarter used someone else’s prescription.

A further quarter (24%) were able to make the purchase through social media.

It also emerged that almost a fifth (19%) are more likely to try a product endorsed by celebrities, causing doctors to warn against the ongoing ‘celebrification’ of weight loss treatments.

Weight loss injections have been created specifically for individuals with a BMI over 30, or at a lower BMI with certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

But the study found of the 35% of adults who would be interested in accessing weight loss injections in the UK, only 7% without pre-existing conditions would meet the criteria.

Dr Crystal Wyllie, from Asda Online Doctor, which commissioned the research to mark the launch of its weight loss injection guide syas: "Weight loss treatments like Wegovy provide an important service for patients affected by excessive weight or struggling with a weight-related health condition.

"It’s concerning to see so many healthy adults looking to lay their hands on these treatments, which should be reserved for those with a genuine medical need.

"It is now down to us as providers to ensure that proper safeguarding is put in place for all patients, and we hope to see other stockists following our suit and implementing rigorous checks to make sure that these treatments are administered responsibly."

The weight loss jab is to be available on the NHS. (Getty Images)
The weight loss jab is now available to certain people on the NHS. (Getty Images)

Ozempic, and other brands such as Wegovy, have been causing a stir recently having been said to be used by celebrities to manage their weight.

In September last year, the drug, also known as semaglutide, was launched on prescription in the UK via specialist NHS weight management services alongside a reduced-calorie diet and exercise.

It follows the National Institute for Care and Excellence (NICE) giving Wegovy the green light for NHS use earlier in 2023.

The government also recently announced a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services in a bid to combat obesity, with PM Rishi Sunak describing the drug as a "game-changer".

Wegovy is usually prescribed as a type 2 diabetes medication that blunts appetite, but experts have warned that there could be some side effects to using the drug as an aid to weight loss, without medical supervision, with Dr Amir Khan previously appearing on both GMB and Lorraine to issue some advice.

Here's everything you need to know about Wegovy or Ozempic in 10 points.

What is Ozempic? Ozempic, Ryblesus and Wegovy are all brand names for a compound called semaglutide. The drug is typically used as a diabetes medication, can be prescribed in various doses and can be in the form of a weekly injection – administered in the stomach, thigh or arm – or a daily oral tablet.

The drug reportedly reduces appetite. "It is a hormone that our guts naturally produce," explained Dr Amir Khan on ITV's Lorraine. "It sends messages up to the pancreas to start producing insulin. But one of the side effects is it slows down the movement of food in the gut so you stay fuller for longer and you don't have much of an appetite. That means you eat less which results in weight loss."

The drug is rumoured to be secretly used by many Hollywood stars. At the Critics Choice Awards last year Chelsea Handler hinted that many celebrities were taking the injectable. "Like when celebrities joke they lost weight by drinking water, but really it's because everyone's on Ozempic," she joked. "Even my housekeeper's on Ozempic."

Searches on social media also link the Kardashians with the drug. But despite Kim Kardashian never confirming her use of Ozempic and her sister, Khloe, issuing a statement denying that she'd used it, it continues to clock up hashtags.

Semaglutide is the official name for Ozempic, which is typically a medication for type 2 diabetes. (Getty Images)
Semaglutide is the official name for Ozempic, which is typically a medication for type 2 diabetes. (Getty Images)

Other celebrities have openly admitted using the drug as a weight loss aid including Elon Musk, who told Twitter he'd tried it, saying the once-weekly injectable was his secret weapon for being "down 30lbs". Jeremy Clarkson also discussed using the drug in a bid to lose weight.

Robbie Williams also recently revealed he is taking "something like Ozempic" to assist with weight loss.

When asked about his recent body transformation, the former Take That singer, 49, told The Times: "Babe, I’m on Ozempic. Well, something like Ozempic. It’s like a Christmas miracle. I’ve gone from 13st 13lb to 12st 1lb.

"And I need it, medically. I’ve been diagnosed with type 2 self-loathing. It’s shockingly catastrophic to my mental health to be bigger."

It's causing a buzz online. Thanks to its reputation as the weight loss drug du jour, Ozempic is quickly clocking up views and shares on social media. On TikTok the hashtag #ozempic already has 1.1 billion views and counting, while Instagram is littered with users sharing their "Ozempic journey" to weight loss.

The drug was hailed a potential 'game changer' during an official UK study. A University College London study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found just over a third (35%) of people who took it for obesity lost more than a fifth of their total body weight.

GPs could soon prescribe weight loss drug Wegovy. (Getty Images)
Could GPs soon prescribe weight loss drug Wegovy? (Getty Images)

Ozempic does come with risks. Dr Amir Khan warned that side effects could include "nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated, diarrhoea, but in some, more serious, cases it can cause inflammation of the pancreas, that's pancreatitis."

He added it can also cause gall bladder problems. "It can even cause kidney failure," he said, "so really it should only be available on prescription. I do prescribe it to my patients living with type 2 diabetes, but it's very carefully monitored. It is not just given online."

Eating disorder charities also have concerns. "Weight-loss medications like semaglutide can be extremely attractive to people with eating disorders as they appear to provide quick results," Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, explains.

"However, these medications can be very dangerous as they can worsen harmful thoughts and behaviours for those unwell, or contribute to an eating disorder developing for someone who is already vulnerable."

Doctors say weight loss medications aren't a magic cure. The NHS advises speaking to your GP for advice about losing weight safely "by eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular physical activity".

They can also let you know about other useful services, such as local weight loss groups (either provided by the NHS or your local council, as well as private clubs that you pay for) and "exercise on prescription" (where you're referred to a local active health team for sessions with a qualified trainer).

Additional reporting PA/SWNS.

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