Semaglutide: should the media slim down its enthusiasm?
- Margaret McCartney, general practitioner
“Hollywood’s favourite skinny jab is coming to the NHS,” read BBC Science Focus magazine, calling it a “weight loss game changer.”1 The Times said its arrival “could trim benefits bill.”2 The Economist’s cover story was enthusiastic: “Eat, inject, repeat—curing obesity, worldwide: The long term effects must be carefully studied. But the excitement is justified.”3
The approval last week of the Novo Nordisk drug semaglutide (Wegovy) for weight loss by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence4 led to a slew of positive headlines. Already available on the NHS for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, semaglutide is now recommended by NICE recommended for weight loss alone in England and Wales (as a different brand and dose). A glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that reduces appetite, semaglutide is not intended to be prescribed by general practice but by specialist NHS weight management services for people at high risk of complications of obesity.
NICE’s recommendation lands in a febrile social media landscape. Instagram is full of posts about the drug from “ordinary” people on their “weight loss journies,” mixed with promotional material from healthcare providers, encouraging them to “be the example that others might be afraid to be.”5 On Twitter, Elon Musk confirmed that he uses Wegovy,6 while other celebrities have felt the need to issue denials that they don’t.7 TikTok—particularly popular with younger generations—has exploded with brand name hashtags by those using and prescribing it.