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L.A. Private Schoolers’ Appetite for Ozempic

L.A. Private Schoolers’ Appetite for Ozempic


(Photo illustration by The Ankler; Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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Peter Kiefer also recently wrote about Hollywood’s New Private School Arms Race.

“Internally I was screaming.”

Over the last academic school year, Dr. Allie Melendez held sex education and wellness workshops at many of Los Angeles’ most elite independent schools — and every time she left one of them, the pit in her stomach grew a little bit larger. Something was wrong. 

Not just at one of these schools — but almost all of them. 

“I have a slide in one of my presentations that shows the logo for Ozempic and I ask the students, what do you know about this?” Melendez tells me. She raises the question when she gets to the part of her presentation that examines notions of beauty in media and advertising. “I ask them, by a show of hands — actually the slide says raise your thumb — if you have either considered, are currently using or are in the process of getting access to Ozempic.

“More than a third of the students, who were seniors, raised their thumbs,” she adds. “Honestly, it’s probably higher than that, because I’m sure some students didn’t feel comfortable admitting to it.”

If it had happened at just one school, maybe she could’ve chalked it up as an aberration. But Melendez kept showing the slide and surveying students as she made her way across L.A.

A slide from Melendez’s presentation.

As the school year wore on, she kept getting similar results — at seven top private academies — and it deeply disturbed her. While she was anguished internally, “on the outside, I’m saying to the students, ‘Thank you all for sharing.’” (Melendez declined to name the schools publicly as she doesn’t want to jeopardize her ability to help students or her relationships with any given school.) 

Melendez knows this world. As a graduate of the UCLA Lab School and then Windward High School, she’s a product of elite Westside schools and understands the myriad pressures students are under. As a Windward student (class of 2014), she saw firsthand the eating disorders that some of her peers suffered from. That experience inspired her to earn a master’s degree in education, a doctorate in human sexuality and build a career as an educational consultant. 

A show of thumbs isn’t exactly a scientific poll, and Melendez understands that. But the early data on young people’s use of such weight-loss drugs as Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro (known as semaglutides or GLP-1s) tracks with rising consumption. From 2020 to 2023, the number of individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 who received a prescription for the diabetes or weight-loss drugs grew from 8,722 to 60,567 per month according to a recent University of Michigan report. That represents an almost 600 percent increase, with the bulk of prescriptions going to females.

It doesn’t take a concerned therapist to understand that pairing this new class of injectable drugs with a generation of teenagers who are increasingly wired to their phones and trying to navigate their way towards adulthood in a body-conscious city like L.A. has the potential for some undesirable outcomes. 

Appearance pressures start early: Sephora gift cards are the go-to birthday for tween girls across L.A., with Brazilian Bum Bum Cream by beauty brand Sol de Janeiro being the hot beauty product for the junior set. (The scented cream costs $48 and according to its website “helps visibly smooth and tighten the appearance of your skin.”)

Celebrity-soaked L.A. already is seized by semaglutides and talking about it openly, with everyone from restaurant owners to personal trainers and plastic surgeons feeling the pinch of a thinning clientele. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to say that many of the incredible shrinking high-level figures in the entertainment industry, parents of children at private schools, likewise are experimenting with the weight-loss drugs.

With sex education and human development curriculums espousing a strong sense of body positivity — and invested in removing any sense of shame from one’s physical appearance — it’s not hard not to see how some mixed messaging is at play with vulnerable minds.

“I think it’s a major problem already,” says Melendez. “As a Westernized society and especially in a city that’s the capital of entertainment, we value skinny and I think that’s why it’s such a problem.”

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A second generation Angeleno, Melendez grew up in Cheviot Hills. She’s the daughter of two advertising executives, which gave her a keen understanding of the power of persuasion. 

In recent months, she’s noticed how aggressive and ubiquitous the marketing of these anti-obesity medications has become, even satirically. “Family Guy did this organic plug about Ozempic and then South Park dedicated an entire episode to it,” she says. “Growing up in L.A., especially on the Westside, you just can’t avoid the media messaging.” 

In the South Park episode — yes, satirical — Cartman is denied access to semaglutides by insurance, and the other kids conspire to find a way to make sure he gets the drugs.

On social media in particular, where teens are spending nearly five hours a day according to the American Psychological Association, Ozempic and other GLP-1s are ubiquitous. Type “semaglutide” into Meta’s advertising library and you’ll find thousands of advertisements that populate Facebook and Instagram pushing these new drugs. Because makers such as Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical giant which created Ozempic and Wegovy, have struggled to keep up with demand, the FDA allows compound pharmacies to make the weight-loss drugs. That has translated into a digital free-for-all hawking GLP-1s.

There are more than 91,500 TikTok videos with the hashtag #Ozempic (and many more with some variation). TikTok removed the ability to see the total view counts on a hashtag in February, but not before a 2023 study in the Journal of Medicine, Surgery, and Public Health of the top 100 videos labeled #Ozempic. The authors found that those videos garnered almost 70 million views, more than 225,000 shares, 2 million-plus likes and almost 55,000 comments. Eighty of the 100 videos had a female presenter; 86 of them were made by consumers rather than medical professionals. 

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For anyone who grew up in L.A., the allure of drugs like Ozempic for students at the city’s elite independent schools likely comes as no surprise. Earlier this year, I reported on the behind-the-scenes drama taking place at some of these schools. Although the spread of GLP-1s isn’t featured in that story, it feels just barely out of frame. As I noted then, adolescent students who attend high-achieving schools often suffer higher rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse at two or even three times the national average. 

These GLP-1 drugs may have been designed to treat Type 2 diabetes, but they also curb appetite and slow the speed that food moves into the small intestine. After the FDA approved these drugs being used as anti-obesity medication, a huge spike in demand resulted, to the point where it’s become difficult for diabetics to find the drug. In 2023, Novo Nordisk reported that sales of its obesity drugs were up 154 percent, with the U.S. market accounting for more than half of Novo Nordisk’s total sales.

Hollywood has attracted an outsize amount of attention for celebrities using the drugs, but there is no municipal data to date chronicling how Los Angeles as a whole has adopted them. As a state, California ranks rather low nationwide in the number of prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs (just 5.5 prescriptions per 1,000 residents, compared with Kentucky, which tops the list, with 21 prescriptions per 1,000 residents). But it’s easy to imagine the city’s wealthier neighborhoods at least somewhat mirroring that of New York’s Upper East Side, which last year was found to have the highest consumption of Ozempic in the Big Apple.

As the capital of the entertainment industry, L.A. has a warped relationship with these drugs — and that’s the concern. “There’s a level of risk at all schools, but particularly at these private schools and high achieving public schools because there’s this culture of high achievement and that amplifies things,” says Christina King, a Manhattan Beach-based psychotherapist whose practice includes treating dozens of kids with a range of issues, including eating disorders. King hadn’t yet encountered a surge in the number of patients she works with who are on these drugs, echoing several L.A.-based school therapists I contacted.  

But King predicts that could change very soon. “As a culture, we get swept away in these new fads and this is one of those catch-all miracle fixes. I worry that over time — similarly with vaping or social media — on the surface it’s this great thing and it’s only over time that we start to see the danger.”

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Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for treating childhood obesity which included the use of anti-obesity medication in kids ages 12 and up. Certainly many of the children in L.A. who struggle with obesity are taking the drugs out of medical necessity; however, the richer people are, the thinner they tend to be.

After speaking to Melendez, I reached out to family members and the children of friends who attend some of L.A.’s independent schools. Among the dozen students I reached, half said they knew of at least one person who was taking Ozempic or one of the other popular anti-obesity drugs. “If you have money and are overweight, for sure you’re on it,” says one student, who added, “there are ways to do it without your parents knowing.”

Those methods include navigating the so-called “dark web” to procure them or gaming the burgeoning telehealth industry, which has made it far easier to get certain medications.

The long-term implications of these drugs on teenagers are still being figured out. According to reports, experts are concerned about everything from how the drugs will impact growth and development to reduced bone mineralization to reproductive issues to abuse by teens participating in athletic activities such as gymnastics and wrestling. “We wrote this paper to say, ‘Hey, let’s think about these things before we just started prescribing these medications for kids’,” Dan Cooper, a pediatric pulmonologist at UCI Health in Irvine, California and the author of a 2023 “call to action,” told NBC News.

Melendez, as an outside consultant, finds herself in a tricky position. She says she has tried to alert several school therapists to her concerns but notes that she’s had to be tactful with the information she’s sharing given privacy concerns. “What I was trying to do is to have kids think critically about problems that plague our society today like the use of Ozempic,” she says, “but I wouldn’t tell the [staff] therapists at the schools everything that the kids would share in my workshops.”

So why is she going public now?

“We just don’t know what the long-term side effects of all this is.”

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