New appetite drug poses 'new era' for obesity, but do we want it?

Trials show a new obesity drug could help patients lose an average of 15kg by suppressing their appetite, but is that really the way to go?

Obesity rates have risen by 13% in the UK since 1993, sparking fears of an 'obesity pandemic.' Now, trials of a new appetite drug have dug up arguments of 'fatphobia' and the harmful narrative of 'weight over wellness.'

New drug could help 'conquer obesity'

A new drug which has undergone international trials claims it could provide a solution to the UK’s obesity problem.

Trials involved a weekly injection of a drug named semaglutide alongside a routine of diet and exercise. The study conducted on over 2,000 people over 15 months showed that participants lost an average of 15kgs.

Semaglutide is no new drug and is used very commonly among those with diabetes. However, the trial looked at administering the drug in much higher doses. Semaglutide works by mimicking a hormone called GLP1 which helps us to feel full. Prof Sir Stephen O'Rahilly, from the University of Cambridge, revealed:

The amount of weight loss achieved is greater than that seen with any licensed anti-obesity drug. This is the start of a new era for obesity drug development with the future direction being to achieve levels of weight loss comparable to semaglutide, while having fewer side-effects.

Jan, a participant from Kent revealed to the BBC that she managed to lose a total of 28kgs, stating that ‘The drug changed my life and completely altered my approach to food.’ She then discussed that previously, dieting was very challenging for her, but the weekly injections made the ordeal much easier. However, after finishing the trial, Jan claims she has been putting the weight back on.

It felt effortless losing weight while on the trial, but now it has gone back to feeling like a constant battle with food.

A cover for fatphobia in the medical system

While the new drug will only be prescribed on a case-by-case basis and is aimed at helping those suffering from harmful medical conditions. Doctors are often quick to label obesity as the problem instead of wellness.

Obesity in itself if comes from the BMI or Body Mass Index concept which categories people in accordance with their weight and height, it is merely an indicator of someone's physical appearance not necessarily of their health. One study in the journal Academic Medicine even revealed that 39% of medical students showed an 'anti-fat' bias, with 67% of them being unaware of said bias. Other examples show that fatphobia in doctors can lead to less aggressive pain treatment and even misdiagnosis which could result in severe complications for some patients. Cat Pausé, from Massey University in New Zealand explained:

There's a growing concern and growing evidence base that actually [poor health in fat people] has very little to do with the physiological state of being fat and much more to do with both the stigma fat people live under, and also the poor care that they receive by their doctors.

The drug also boasts that by causing weight loss it also helps reduce chances of diabetes and heart disease. However, as a 2016 study revealed, the likelihood of diabetes is much more dependant of physical activity as opposed to weight. The study found that unfit skinny people were as much as twice as likely to develop diabetes than active fat people. Another study from 2012 also found that those considered 'obese' but were metabolically healthy and fit, had no greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease or cancer than people considered to be 'normal weight.'

Is this drug really good in the long term?

The new use of semaglutide seems further push the narrative that weight is the sole problem for these patients. One of which was even interviewed stating that since stopping the drug, she was putting weight back on. But for those who do want to lose weight could a combination of healthy diet, exercise and therapy instead of appetite supressing drugs be more effective and healthy in the long term.

Not only does the new semaglutide drug bring fatphobia into the question, but it is also worthwhile to mention there were side effects of nausea and diarrhoea which were so bad that 60 people were reported to have dropped the study.

As years of failed diet pills, and weight loss products have taught us if we really do want to lose weight then healthy eating, exercise and time are really the only way to go. Dr Duane Mellor, a dietician and from Aston Medical School, told the BBC:

It is useful to have a potential option to help people lose weight, however we need to acknowledge that weight loss will still need lifestyle change, and that any medication or change in lifestyle can bring potential risks and side-effects. So, it is always wise to speak to a health professional before trying to lose weight.
New magnetic weight loss device could be the solution to end obesity New magnetic weight loss device could be the solution to end obesity