Anti-Obesity Drugs and Fat Shaming

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“Individuals who have obesity are left to face these stigmatizing beliefs resulting from weight bias and unfortunately, there is no hiding from it either.”

There is no denying the stigma of obesity in both our society and the medical world. People often equate obesity with being lazy, a lack of discipline, poor hygiene, and other negative character traits. These negative ideologies affect the livelihood and health of those who are obese. Obesity has become an epidemic and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42 percent of the adult population in America are obese. Individuals who have obesity are left to face these stigmatizing beliefs resulting from weight bias and unfortunately, there is no hiding from it either. Unlike other health conditions, obesity invites noticeable attention from the public. The inability to hide from obesity causes discrimination and a pervasive effect on the lives of these individuals.

Not only can obesity alter the way the outside world views someone who carries excessive weight, but it can also have a deep effect on interpersonal relationships. These individuals are often seen by others based on the status of their weight. The stereotypes placed on them can result in prejudice and discrimination in their personal lives, the dating scene, the workplace, academic settings, and even medical facilities. Everyday civilians, public figures, wellness gurus, and even medical professionals have all been ones to have voiced their negative beliefs towards obesity. If they have not outwardly voiced these opinions, individuals with obesity have reported feeling discriminated against by others.

“The obesity stigma has caused prevalent harm to both the psychological and physical health of obese individuals.”

The obesity stigma has caused prevalent harm to both the psychological and physical health of obese individuals. Individuals expressing such anti-obesity bias, speak about how lifestyle choices such as healthy diets and increasing fitness activity levels are the simple and obvious solutions. In many ways, such an assessment is correct. Our lifestyles have changed dramatically in the past 75 years, and it has become harder and harder to escape the marketing strategies of big food corporations which are all built on taking control of the brain’s reward system. Their strategy is to take advantage of the same biological mechanisms involved in substance use disorders. Unfortunately, decades of scientific studies have shown that individual lifestyle choices alone are often not able to make a dent on the obesity epidemic fueled by these commercial interests.

The recent development of anti-obesity drugs has gained traction as a potential solution to both the health as well as the psychological problems associated with obesity. However, the introduction of these medications has sparked debates surrounding their efficacy, safety, and the persistent prevalence of fat shaming. This article aims to explore the complex relationship between anti-obesity drugs and fat shaming, highlighting the importance of a compassionate and understanding approach to tackling obesity.

Understanding Anti-Obesity Drugs

The modern anti-obesity drugs are aimed at body’s own mechanisms to control satiety, feelings of postprandial fullness, and food cravings. They were originally developed and became first FDA approved as effective medications for type 2 diabetes. However, based on results from several clinical trials, they have become increasingly popular as weight loss medications, able to aid individuals in managing their weight by suppressing appetite These medications are typically prescribed for people with a body mass index (BMI) above a certain threshold or those with weight-related medical conditions. However, it is essential to note that anti-obesity drugs are not meant to be a standalone solution; they are intended to be used in conjunction with a comprehensive weight management plan, including dietary education, exercise, and behavioral modifications.

Efficacy and Safety Considerations

The effectiveness of anti-obesity drugs varies depending on the medication and individual factors. Some drugs have shown promising results in short-term studies, leading to initial weight loss. However, long-term success rates are often lower, and weight regain can occur once the medication is discontinued, the so called “yo-yo effect”.

Critics of anti-obesity drugs argue that they are not a sustainable solution and may overshadow the importance of addressing the root causes of obesity, such as the popularity of the Standard American diet, sedentary lifestyle, and psychological factors, such as chronic stress. They argue that these medications should be considered as part of a comprehensive approach rather than a sole intervention.

“The stereotypes placed on obese individuals can result in prejudice and discrimination in their personal lives, the dating scene, the workplace, academic settings, and even medical facilities.”

The risk of obesity on health is real and while lifestyle choices are major contributors to maintaining a healthy weight, lifestyle alone cannot stave off obesity in the long-term. Many studies have demonstrated that eating a healthy diet and staying physically active will result in many health benefits, but sometimes this is not enough to combat the weight loss needed in order to ensure the body functions in the way it should. Multiple other factors such as genetics, depression and other medical conditions can all contribute to obesity. While poor diet and inactivity play prominent roles in the current obesity epidemic, some individuals, in particular those with a BMI greater than 30 who have been on countless diet plans and have incredible willpower are still unable to lose the excess weight and/or keep it off.

“While poor diet and inactivity can be a cause of obesity, lifestyle choices are not always the sole contributor.”

Based on the stigmatization and health risks of obesity, it should come as no surprise that when weight loss drugs like Wegovy, Saxenda, Ozempic, or Mounjaro hit the market, obese individuals were finally able to find a tangible solution. After years of struggling to lose weight and keep it off, there is finally an effective answer for them.

However, when these drugs became attainable, the weight bias and stereotypes toward obese individuals continued. People began to voice their opinions that these drugs were the “easy way out” or “cheating.” However, many of these individuals who resorted to these medications had only done so after years of trying countless diets and trying to escape obesity by lifestyle choices alone. Individuals who started taking the new “miracle” drugs were now left being judged for having lost the excess weight in ways that did not require what others believed to be copious amounts of discipline and hard work.

“After years of struggling to lose weight and keep it off, there is finally an answer…”

While the judgements of others would not always be an individual’s main motivation for losing weight, the prejudices placed upon these individuals can deeply harm both their psychological and physical health. Additionally, the interpersonal relationships of obese individuals can be relative to the status of their weight and therefore the dynamic may be altered after weight loss. Some have bonded over their weight status and when one loses a substantial amount of weight, this may incite jealousy or insecurity among the other resulting in resentment. Alternatively, many people have voiced that they do not believe there is any honor in losing weight through these drugs. People who hold those beliefs may end up projecting shame onto those they are close with who go about losing weight in this way.

Weight loss can positively impact the overall well-being of an individual, especially if having been previously faced with obesity. Weight stigma and weight bias are extremely prevalent and our society needs to work through these negative ideologies that are projected onto others. While this problem continues to persist, it is important that others are educated about the alternative causes of obesity and the potential health risks it may impose. For these reasons, the choice an individual who has been struggling their weight without success may make to take a weight loss medication should be respected and understood from an outside perspective. There is never any reason to project shame onto somebody who decides to make a decision that is best for both their physical and mental health.

Amanda Johnson Amanda is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California where she received her degree in Psychology. In addition to her university studies, she earned her Integrative Nutrition Health Coach certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN).

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD