Doctors Are Promoting Weight Loss Drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy on TikTok
The platform's virality is boosting the popularity of a host of drugs — and their prescribers.
TikTok is proving to be an effective marketing tool for yet another product: weight loss drugs.
Several doctors said promoting the newly-viral weight loss drugs, which include Ozempic and Wegovy, has made them more successful from views to actual business, according to Insider.
"I was giving people information and putting it out there, and it just exploded," said Jennifer Harris, a nurse practitioner of River Valley Obstetrics and Gynecology in Arkansas, per Insider.
@jenharrisaprn Replying to @whitneyarmer #compoundedsemaglutide #obesity #obesitymedicine #weightloss #semaglutide ♬ original sound - Jen Harris, APRN
The drugs, which are brand-name versions of the chemical compound Semaglutide, work to help the body regulate insulin production and are typically used to help people manage Type 2 Diabetes. One drug is specifically approved for weight management (Wegovy) and the other is being used for the purpose off-label, but both have been used to promote weight loss.
"What drives the video to go viral is if you can generate some kind of discussion," said Dr. Nelson Simmons, a physician at Personal MD Wellness & Aesthetics in McKinney, Texas, per Insider.
@personalmd Anyone can lose weight! Stop using age, hormones, thyroid, and whatever other excuses you have used in the past. With all the new options to help people reach their weight goals, I encourage you to seek medical support. . #wegovy #semaglutide #weightloss #obesity #overweight #medicalweightloss #fyp ♬ Pretty Boy Swag - Soulja Boy
Amy Oden, a nurse practitioner who works at a medical spa in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told Insider posting on TikTok is "drumming up quite a bit of new business," from people who are a variety of ages and who have struggled to lose weight with other methods.
What are Ozempic and Wegovy?
Ozempic and Wegovy are injectable drugs that use Semaglutide, which helps the pancreas release insulin when blood sugar levels are actually high, and thus improves the way sugar moves through the body, according to the company.
A double-blind placebo study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal found the drug helped people lose between 6% and 13.6% of their body mass, on average.
Ozempic is approved for use in managing Type 2 Diabetes, but doctors can prescribe Ozempic for weight loss because the FDA allows doctors to give patients medications "off-label" if they think it's in the patient's best interests. It has been approved for that use since 2017, but, as The Cut reported, the drug really took off when celebrities like Elon Musk and Chelsea Handler said they used the substance.
"The last six months, I've written 1,400 prescriptions for semaglutide," Dr. Holly Lofton, of NYU Langone's Weight Management Program, told the outlet.
Risks include increased chances of developing thyroid cancer, and side effects from nausea to fatigue, according to the company. Another risk is what doctors are calling "Ozempic face." Dr. Gary Motykie, a TikTok-famous plastic surgeon, said "Ozempic face" is when people find themselves with saggy faces after using the drug.
@dr.90210 What is #OzempicFace and what can you do if it happens to you? #Ozempic #OzempicWeightLoss #OzempicJourney #PlasticSurgeonExplains #PlasticSurgeonReacts #PlasticSurgeryNews #Semaglutide #SemaglutideForWeightLoss #CelebrityWeightLoss #CelebrityPlasticSurgery #OzempicsHot #WeightLossFace #WeightLossFaceEdition #CosmeticSurgery #PlasticSurgeryTrends #PlasticSurgerySecrets #PlasticSurgeonTok #PlasticSurgeryTikTok #JessicaSimpson #PostMalone #KyleRichards #ChelseaHandler ♬ Balanço - Staysee
But that hasn't stopped people from clamoring for the drug, even those who do not have Type 2 Diabetes.
The manufacturer of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, does not officially promote the use of the drug for off-label purposes. (A Novo Nordisk spokesperson told Insider it "does not promote, suggest, or encourage off-label use of our medicines.")
But the drug has brought in major sales.
The company's operating profits have increased 58% since beginning to sell the drug in 2017, per The Cut. Its profits in the third quarter, reported in November, surpassed analysts' estimates by 32%, buoyed by Ozempic, some speculated.
Now, a wave of interest online is boosting the drugs' popularity even more.
TikTok is giving weight loss drugs a boost
TikTok has seen a wave of people posting videos of their weight loss while using the medications.
According to a November 2022 article published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, videos on TikTok about drugs like Ozempic have gotten millions of views and usually feature women in their 20s and 30s.
"The TikTok trend has prompted a surge in demand for the drug, compromising availability for people with type 2 diabetes, and leading to global shortages that are likely to continue into 2023," the summary warns. It has reportedly become difficult for many to find the drug at pharmacies.
Without insurance, Ozempic costs upwards of $800. You can also get just the generic ingredient from compounding pharmacies for less.
Besides cost, people have raised concerns with the spread of the shots, from the fact that people who are having success with them need to be on them to keep the results, ongoing debates about how weight can result in discrimination from doctors to employers, and increased feelings of fatphobia, as Vox noted.
Another article published in the Canadian Journal of Bioethics warned clinicians to consider how they recommend weight loss to patients, considering, for example, that research has shown physicians tend to dislike treating obese people and give them a decreased quality of care.