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Drug may finally dispel the myths of obesity

Weight loss is a popular new year topic, and our TV screens in January are saturated with ads claiming to have uncovered the ‘real’ secret to cutting back the kilos.

For many, the results do not live up to the hype, but that may be about to change thanks to a new weight loss drug that is, by all scientific accounts, achieving remarkable results.

In clinical trials, patients who were administered Semaglutide – soon to be available in Australia under the brand name ‘Wegovy’ – lost significantly more body weight than those undergoing an intensive diet and exercise program.

The successful trial of Semaglutide could provide significant health benefits to those who are overweight, but its impact has the potential to be much more far-reaching. It could finally put to bed the myth that obesity results purely from poor diet and health choices.

Large swathes of Australia’s – and indeed the Western world’s – population do not accept the ‘excuses’ proffered by those who struggle with their weight. Comments such as, “I have a slow metabolism”, are often met with raised eyebrows or blatant rejection.

Read: Why eating late at night is so bad for weight loss

Scientists who specialise in weight loss have long known that there’s more to it than ‘calories in versus calories out’, but the popular narrative has continued to push that simplistic view, resulting in the stigmatisation of those who find it difficult to shed kilos.

Health professionals such as Professor Brian Oldfield, a leading obesity researcher at Monash University, believe that the results of the Semaglutide trials provide black and white evidence that weight loss is a genuine disease that should be treated as such.

“I think it will reframe the argument,” he said. “As these drugs become more effective and available, it will be harder for people to ignore them.”

Another expert in the field, Tiffany Petre, director of the Obesity Collective, agrees. A change in the framing of the argument will not only reduce the stigma but, she says, also open the door to previously unavailable healthcare options.

“People with obesity haven’t been able to get appropriate healthcare. Now there is something on the market.”

Read: Two surprising reasons behind the obesity epidemic

The advent of Semaglutide does not change the notion of the importance of a good diet and exercise, however. Both remain vital components of achieving a healthy weight. But, says Prof. Oldfield, they are only part of the equation.

“They are not enough by themselves. They typically give a 3 to 5 per cent reduction in body weight.”

The clinical trials have confirmed this. A 2021 trial of Semaglutide compared 611 volunteers who followed an identical intensive behavioural therapy exercise program and an initial low-calorie diet.

Two-thirds of those volunteers were given subcutaneous Semaglutide, while the other third received a placebo.

Those who took the placebo achieved, on average, 5.7 per cent weight loss. But the average loss for those taking Semaglutide was 16.0 per cent, a statistically significant variation.

Read: Study finds sweeteners may not be helping with weight loss

Those who are thinking that this news is too good to be true are correct, to a degree. There are a couple of caveats. First, Semaglutide may not be the answer for everyone looking to lose weight, though. Six per cent of volunteers found nausea to be a side-effect severe enough to give up the trial.

Second, while the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) has approved Semaglutide for use as a weight loss drug, it is not yet commercially available. One of the reasons for this is that Semaglutide is also a used as a diabetes treatment, under the brand name Ozempic.

Such has been the worldwide demand for Semaglutide as a result of the weight-loss trials that there is now a worldwide shortage of the drug.

But, assuming this shortage is temporary, for those who don’t suffer side-effects, Semaglutide, while not a magic bullet, could help in achieving a healthy weight.

And it may finally bust one of the stubbornest myths of obesity.

Have you struggled with weight loss? Would you consider taking Semaglutide if your doctor recommended it? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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