It's the healthcare story that went viral on social media when it was announced last week. The NHS will soon offer obese patients a new weight loss jab in a bid to solve the worsening obesity crisis in the UK. As the announcement was shared and re-shared, it wasn't long before a word that a lot of us had never heard of before was trending: Wegovy.
It's no secret that the UK is in the midst of an obesity problem. The Health Survey for England estimated that in 2021, 25.9 percent of adults were obese — defined as those who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above – with a further 37.9 percent considered overweight but not obese. This puts a strain on the NHS and so the government has backed a £40million two-year pilot scheme to tackle the issue with a weight-loss drug.
Wegovy is the name of this drug that claims to be able to shrink waistlines across the country. It works by suppressing the appetite of those who receive it, helping them to eat less food. Sounds like a quick fix, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. Here's everything you need to know about Wegovy weight loss.
What Is Wegovy?
"Wegovy is a new weight loss injection which is set to be offered to thousands of people living with obesity on the NHS," explains Dr Ross Perry, GP and Medical Director of Cosmedics. "Once injected into the skin it works to mimic the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1, which then suppresses the appetite, making you feel fuller for longer and less hungry."
This drug is administered to patients through a weekly injection and can continue to be given until the doctor prescribing it deems the patient has lost enough weight to no longer need it, to a maximum of 2 years. Each single dose of Wegovy contains 1mg of semaglutide, the drug responsible for suppressing the appetite, and was approved for use in the USA in 2021, but until now has only been used in the UK to support weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes.
Who Can Use Wegovy?
Wegovy will be available across the UK on the NHS soon, but there are limits on who can be prescribed the injection. "It will be prescribed to those with a particularly high BMI (Body Mass Index) of at east 35 (18 and-a-half-stone and 6ft tall) and at least one weight-related health condition. This could be high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol and a range of heart problems," Dr Perry says. "Doctors should only be offering the drug to very specific patients who have serious, ongoing problems with their health because of their weight, not just any patient who is overweight."
NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has advised that the drug should only be available through specialist clinics, which tend to be based in hospitals. But government ministers are giving GPs the ability to offer Wegovy through community doctor's surgeries in order to reach more people.
Is Wegovy Safe?
The Wegovy weight loss jab has been approved by The European Medicines Agency, which means Wegovy's benefits are considered greater than its risks, and it has been authorised for use in the EU. Yet, as with any drug, there are side effects to be aware of. Common side effects can include: nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, headache, tiredness, an upset stomach, dizziness, feeling bloated, excess gas, stomach flu, heartburn, and a runny nose or sore throat. There is also an increased risk of gallstones, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and thyroid cancer in those who use the drug.
"As with all medicines, it can have some side effects. It's important to remember that this isn't a 'quick fix' and you will have to make lifestyle changes too such as eating healthier and exercising more for maximum benefit," Dr Perry adds.
Registered nutritionist, and founder of Rhitrition, Rhiannon Lambert, agrees. "No pill, supplement or injection is ever superior to diet, because the risk of deficiencies are huge when it comes to your health," she tells POPSUGAR. "Money is being spent on these drugs that don't get to the root cause of obesity. There is often a lot going on with each individual person dealing with obesity and it's a mix of psychology, personal background, and education. These all form our personal eating habits and dictate the foodie choices we make."
Lambert adds that, as with many fad diets, the Wegovy injections stop working after the course has finished. This means that for those patients who don't make lifestyle changes while on the drug, they may return to unhealthy eating patterns. "It interferes with our appetite signals (our hunger signals) and we simply don't know what the long-term side effects of this are. As a registered nutritionist, I would prefer Public Health England to invest money into educating the future generations about health, nutrition, and food," she says. "The obesity crisis in the NHS at the moment does need addressing, but this is a short term fix and we cannot rely on an injection or a pill when it comes to someone's weight and health."
"Reducing someone's appetite doesn't mean they are going to be healthy. The food choices they make still need to support them nutritionally."
There is also the added confusion over what healthy eating actually means. "Reducing someone's appetite doesn't mean they are going to be healthy. The food choices they make still need to support them nutritionally," she says. "If an obese person receives this drug, then only eats two croissant a day, they will be seriously impacting their health. They wont be getting enough nutritions like protein and fibre, or calcium to support their bone health. These drugs need to be thought through as patients would need to be working alongside a dietician to really make sure they stay healthy. This is why Wegovy is an issue from a health perspective, because you can become at risk of huge deficiencies. And the person taking it hasn't learnt anything about how to eat well."
The UK government has said that Wegovy can "help adults living with obesity lose over 15 percent of their body weight when prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support". But Lambert says this is largely guesswork. "There is no long-term data at all on this drug, we don't know if people keep the weight off or not, we don't know. This drug completely ignores the root problem which is that, in this country, we have over consumption of processed foods and a lack of education on the benefits of real, whole foods, and cooking skills from a young age. Nutrition should be part of to curriculum, we should be supporting
people across all areas of the uk, especially parents of children, to understand how to eat to support their health, and navigate the cost of living crisis when it comes to their food consumption. Understanding how much your lifestyle makes a difference to your weight."
Which Celebrities Have Tried Wegovy?
You might have heard of another weight-loss drug called Ozempic, which is a very similar medication to Wegovy, and has been a trending topic in the US of late. So much so, that Jimmy Kimmel joked about the number of A-listers using it at the 2023 Oscars. And while many celebs have denied taking the drug, some have admitted to trying Ozempic or Wegovy for their own weight management, through private clinics in the US.
Comedian and actress Amy Schumer said she had tried the drug to help her lose weight, but admitted that, while it helped her drop the pounds, it also made her so sick that she couldn't play ball with her then 3-year-old son, Gene. Speaking on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen", she said: "You're like, 'OK, this isn't livable for me,' but I immediately invested because I'm like, 'Everyone and their mom is gonna try it'."
TikTok star and model Remi Bader admitted on the "Not Skinny But Not Fat" podcast that she was prescribed semaglutide (the drug in Wegovy) when she became pre-diabetic, but gained weight the minute she came off the injections. "I was like 'I bet the second I go off I'm going to get starving again', and I did. My bingeing got so much worse."
Last year, business magnate and investor Elon Musk told his 116 million Twitter followers that his weight loss was down to two things: "Fasting" and "Wegovy".