More than a billion people worldwide are obese but weight loss drugs are not the answer, says pharmacist

Composite image of belly and injection

Weight loss drugs can be a benefit but they are not the only solution - and the risks need to be considered, says pharmacist

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Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 01/03/2024

- 18:01

Updated: 02/03/2024

- 08:03

As the world passes a grim new milestone, a pharmacist gives his honest appraisal of the latest solution to obesity

Today public health officials everywhere are mulling over the implications of a new study on the rates of obesity worldwide.

A global analysis published in the Lancet journal shows that more than one billion people in the world are now living with obesity.

In the UK alone, around 16.8 million people are living with obesity - which includes eight million women, 7.4 million men, 760,000 boys and 590,000 girls, the study found.

The consequences are profound: obesity can increase the risk of developing many serious health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

The new report underscores the need to do something but a gung-ho approach to weight loss drugs is not the answer, claims one pharmacist.

“Weight loss drugs can help, but they’re not a magic solution. They don’t tackle underlying issues that cause weight gain like mental health, lifestyle and overall health," said Graham Philips, Founder of ProLongevity.

An obese person in England

In the UK alone, around 16.8 million people are living with obesity, warns new study


What's more, they can come with a range of side effects, like nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation, he added.

"Plus, many people who stop medication just end up regaining weight, so it’s really not sustainable."

His concerns are not unfounded: research has linked weight loss drugs to a number of health problems.

For example, a study published last year suggests people taking popular injected medications for weight loss, including Wegovy, Ozempic, Saxenda and Victoza, may be at higher risk for serious digestive problems such as stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, and bowel obstructions, compared with those taking other types of weight loss medications.

And concerns have been raised about the loss of muscle but this isn't inherently bad and the debate is ongoing.

The other side of the story

Not everyone is so down on weight loss drugs. In fact, many are viewing them as game-changing.

Science named GLP-1 drugs its Breakthrough of the Year in 2023, citing research that found the class of weight loss therapies slashed rates of obesity and its attendant risks.

GLP-1 medications were originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes but they really took off in the weight loss space after Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide (marketed as Wegovy) entered the market.

Doctor holding an injection

GLP-1 medications were originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes


In August of last year, a trial of 529 people with obesity and heart failure found that after one year, people on semaglutide had almost double the heart improvement, as measured by a standard heart failure questionnaire, and could walk an extra 20 meters in six minutes compared with those in the placebo group.

It's fair to say that weight loss drugs may be part of the solution but they are not a panacea.

"The food we eat, and how we think about food needs radical reform away from ultra processed foods and sugar," said Graham, the pharmacist.

For example, "we can halt type 2 diabetes in around eight weeks, with no medical intervention or drugs", he noted.

How? "Simply by helping people better understand their metabolic health and how different foods affect it".

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