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The TikTok trend that triggered a diabetes drug shortage


 

Weight loss advice is everywhere you look on social media, but one trend sweeping TikTok has led to shortages of an important diabetes drug.

Ozempic, a weekly injection that helps boost insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes, also suppresses appetite, which leads to weight loss. Stories of celebrities using the drug off-label to lose a few pounds have led to an explosion of interest. And now people with diabetes – people whose lives could be saved by the drug – are having trouble finding it.

Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk

In the spring, Kim Kardashian pulled off a dramatic weight loss to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress for the Met Gala. Soon rumors began to circulate that she’d used Ozempic to do it. Just this week, new Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted about his own use of Ozempic and its sibling drug, Wegovy.

Variety dubbed Ozempic “the worst kept secret in Hollywood – especially given that its most enthusiastic users are not prediabetic and do not require the drug.” The rich and famous are spending $1,200 to $1,500 a month to get access.

As so often happens, high-profile use sparked a trend. Videos on TikTok hashtagged #ozempic have amassed more than 275 million views, and #ozempicweightloss has more than 110 million.

This raises concerns about who, exactly, is watching these videos, and what message they’re receiving.

“Forty-two percent of Americans have obesity, and even more have overweight. That’s affecting our younger people and our adolescents,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, codirector of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “They’re looking at TikTok and other social media outlets for help.”

A new study shows how damaging this can be: Researchers analyzed 1,000 videos with nutrition, food, and weight-related hashtags, with over 1 billion views combined. They found that nearly all included messages glorifying weight loss and thinness.

At last, an effective weight-loss drug

Ozempic is Danish drug company Novo Nordisk’s brand name for semaglutide, which works by mimicking a naturally occurring hormone known as GLP-1. It travels to your brain and helps you feel full on less food. That leads to weight loss. In one 68-week study, semaglutide helped people lose an average of 15% of their body weight. But it’s not a miracle drug: You still have to change your eating habits and stay physically active.

The FDA approved Ozempic to treat people with type 2 diabetes in 2017. Four years later, Novo Nordisk received the green light for a higher-dose version meant specifically for people with obesity. Wegovy is approved for use only if you have a BMI of at least 27 with one or more weight-related ailments, or a BMI of 30 or more with none.

“These drugs are dominating my practice, because they’re so effective,” says Amanda Velazquez, MD, director of obesity medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The drug is considered safe, “so the majority of patients are good candidates.”

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