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Inside the Boom of Ozempic, a Diabetes Drug Turned Weight-loss Craze

It's the talk of Hollywood.

“I am not at all endorsing this, but people are talking about it,” says comedian Heather McDonald on her podcast, “Juicy Scoop.”

“A lot of people are wondering, ‘What are the Kardashians using where they had such rapid weight loss and dropped it so quick and their bodies completely transformed? What is it?’” she goes on. “A lot of people were talking about this, and it’s called Ozempic.”

It’s the buzz in Hollywood (and on TikTok). The wealthy have been using the pricey weight loss injection to slim down, and now the stars reportedly are, too.

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Semaglutide is its medical name, manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. But it’s sold under the brand name Ozempic, among others. Injected once weekly in the buttock or stomach, it’s an antidiabetic medication used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but it’s also being injected for weight loss.

“People are asking it by name,” says Dr. David Shafer, a double board-certified New York City plastic surgeon who specializes in aesthetic and cosmetic surgery. He’s been practicing for 14 years and runs Shafer Clinic. “It’s a huge business for us right now.”

Ozempic has been growing in popularity for about a year, he adds. And today, about half of his daily clients are seeking the injection. “At least 20 people a day.”

They’re paying out of pocket — about $1,000 to $1,400 per month, though pricing varies.

Shafer takes Ozempic himself, he reveals; he’s lost about 20 pounds (an employee of his lost 30).

“The only side effect I have is sometimes when I eat cheese or greasy foods, I get a nauseous feeling,” he says. “But that’s pretty much it. I don’t have any side effects really.”

Shafer says that there have been “other weight loss medications that are stimulants, meaning they speed up the metabolic rate in your body so you’re burning calories more, but the side effects are that you feel jittery, you feel hyper, get headaches.”

He starts patients on a low dose of Ozempic to minimize the nausea. Some use it as pre-surgery prep before getting liposuction or a tummy tuck while others utilize it post-operation to “maximize results,” but many are simply looking to lose weight. “We’re able to start people out on a regimen, and so they’ll come the first couple of times for their dosages and then we can teach them how to self-administer.”

The way it is meant to work is by reducing blood glucose through a mechanism where it stimulates insulin secretion and lowers glucagon secretion.

“It’s interfering with the mechanism of your metabolism of glucose,” Shafer explains. “So, normally you would eat, and then the food would move into your intestines. Basically, [with Ozempic] the food sits in your stomach a little bit longer, so you feel fuller faster and fuller for longer. And so, you’re not stuffing your face with food.”

Ozempic was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (available in three therapeutic doses, 0.5 mg, 1 mg and 2 mg) to “improve blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes and to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events” when used in addition to diet and exercise. The agency warns against possible side effects that include “low blood sugar, inflammation of the pancreas, complications of diabetes-related retina disease (diabetic retinopathy) and allergic reactions.”

In animal studies, “mice and rats that received Ozempic were more likely to develop a certain kind of thyroid cancer,” states the FDA. “It is not known whether this may occur in humans. The most common side effects in clinical trials included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and constipation…Ozempic is not a weight loss drug, but may help people lose some weight.”

Women today are seeking the impossible, which has become nearly attainable thanks to advances in plastic surgery, injectables and tools: appearing slim — a flat stomach, skinny arms à la Kim Kardashian as of late — with more natural-looking curves, perky and enhanced breasts and butts. And with uber-skinny stars like Hailey Bieber, Zoë Kravitz and Lily Collins snagging fashion campaigns and lead roles, it’s no surprise that a quick-fix to slim down is gaining popularity.

“They want every last drop of fat taken out of them,” Shafer says of patients. He has five or six operations a week. “Others want a little curve. We do have people coming in more now removing the bigger implants and wanting smaller-size implants.”

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Perceptions of body and beauty standards have varied across cultures and generations. In the U.S., the ’90s brought us Kate Moss and the waif look, while the early Aughts gave rise to pop stars and Victoria’s Secret models, showcasing a very slender, curvy-skinny look. Then came the Kardashians, bringing back the extreme hourglass figure. The “Brazilian Butt Lift” became mainstream as a result, but we’ve been entering a new era: the “Skinny BBL,” “Country Club BBL” or “Athletic BBL,” as it’s known.

Women are wanting “a little bit of enhancement,” continues Shafer. “Not something that you would notice from, you know, across the room or down the block.”

Dr. David Alessi, a double-board certified plastic surgeon and founder of the Alessi Institute in Beverly Hills, sees a similar trend.

“The BBL look is still in vogue, but recently, people are realizing that these massive butts just don’t look that good,” he says. “So, we have a tendency to get away from that, but it’s still a tiny waist, liposuction, having the ribs fractured or ribs removed to make the waist even thinner. The breast implants aren’t as big, butt isn’t as big.”

Dana Omari, known as @igfamousbydana to her more than 238,000 followers on Instagram, educates viewers and helps them understand the reality of plastic surgery.

“Celebrities still have BBLs,” she says. “Their butts are still much larger, much, much, much larger than they would be for their frame. But for the last couple of years, we’ve been seeing a decline on the outrageously large BBL body. It’s still not truly a natural look, but it’s a more natural look.”

Asked about trends on Instagram, she said “it’s whatever the Kardashians are doing.”

With a background in the medical spa industry, she noticed clients were hugely misinformed, and it was largely due to celebrity culture.

“I just realized it was celebrities saying that they only do this or that, they changed this part of their body or face by doing something that would not give that result,” says Omari. “It’s misinformation that they’ve gotten online from celebrities, public figures that are not wanting to admit to surgeries.”

She, like many, has an issue with celebrities promoting diet, slimming or beauty products without being honest about how they truly achieved their results.  

She, too, has seen the boom of Ozempic. Yet no one is owning up to using it.

“They found that it is very, very, very helpful in weight loss and non-diabetic individuals as well,” she says. “It’s blowing up.”

There’s also Wegovy, she went on, listing other injectable prescription medicines including Saxenda and Mounjaro.

“It’s to the point where Ozempic and Wegovy are out of stock constantly now,” she adds. “And they’ve asked doctors not to write new prescriptions so that the people who were on it already can continue their medication, while they tried to scale their manufacturing.”

Asked about the popularity of the injections for non-diabetics, in a statement to WWD, Novo Nordisk (which also manufactures Wegovy) says: “Although Wegovy® and Ozempic® both contain semaglutide, they are different products with different indications, dosages, titration schedules and delivery devices. The products are not interchangeable and should not be used outside of their approved indications. Alternative FDA-approved medications for chronic weight management are available. We advise you to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss your treatment options.”

What does this all mean for the body positive movement?

“Body positivity to me is not shaming anyone else for their body, what they’re doing to it or not doing to it,” says Omari. “Now, if you’re lying about it, but selling, you know, a shake or a workout plan, anything, that’s a different issue.”