The Ozempic Effect: Social Side Effects of Medical Breakthroughs
Originally published via Cultural Vibrations by Hannah Grey VC
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, or what’s now being dubbed a “miracle drug,” was originally looked to for Type 2 Diabetes support. But its other outcome: weight loss, eclipsed its original intended effect.
This story is similar to Sildenafil’s – a drug intended for hypertension. Only when its clinical trial patients kept reporting erections, did Pfizer reposition the drug. Viagra now owns 45% of the sexual dysfunction market.
Over the last couple of years — with celeb and influencer endorsement for Ozempic, the drug has found itself in the limelight. It's now a pop-culture star itself.
With two-thirds of Americans obese or overweight, The Wall Street Journal reports nearly 7% of the population will be on weight-loss drugs by 2035. Analysts claim this drug alone is looking at an annual $100B future. In September, Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, passed LVMH as Europe’s highest valued company.
For some, skinniness is the final frontier of luxury.
While a drug’s physical side effects are always worth consideration, with such radical breakthroughs, we should also responsibly consider the social side effects — tertiary second- and third-order effects.
Investors and the press already can’t help themselves...
Executives at the largest food manufacturers are now navigating investors’ concerns around the drug’s potential impact on eating habits. Morgan Stanley and Barclays are considering: What if those 24M people on a weight loss drug cut their calorie count by 30%? What does this mean for snack and fast food brands’ bottom lines? Nestlé is already reacting, developing new products to “accompany these drugs.” They’re asking: How do we ensure consumers maintain their muscle mass when Ozempic burns too much tissue along with their fat?
That we’re empathizing with the snack and fast food industry, which brought us to this moment, is another story...
Regardless, with these headlines, one industry’s loss is another’s gain.
Jefferies, another investment bank, is crunching the numbers: What if the average flier loses 10 pounds, which equates to 1,790 pounds per flight? United Airlines alone could save 27.6M gallons of fuel per year and, oh – $80M. Cha-ching. Do they pass those savings onto consumers, increasing flight demand and maybe blowing sustainability goals, or do they maintain current prices, increasing margins?
This is all a part of The Ozempic Effect.
The Ozempic Effect considers the far-reaching cultural ripples from radical medical breakthroughs. There are both positive and negative implications, and more often than not, we’re left with more questions than answers...
With Ozempic adoption, how will beauty standards evolve (or devolve) across our media? The Ozempic Face, another shade of The Instagram Face, rise of botox, and buccal fat removal, may be our glow-up rebellion to the ballooning of radical inclusivity over the last decade. Supporting this tension, look to Victoria’s Secret re-embrace of hyper-sexualization as they learned their inclusive campaigns didn’t help business (...or maybe it’s bad product and new competitors). Regardless, Martha Stewart (82) on the cover of The Swimsuit Edition invites an equal and opposite reaction. Even more unrealistic AI models notwithstanding.
Are we on our way to canceling out years of inclusive body positivity and progress now that we have a choice over our weight?
Wasn’t this movement born from the fact that we didn’t have a choice and should therefore celebrate all forms of beauty?
As Ellen Atlanta writes for DAZED Beauty,
“In our individualistic, capitalist and patriarchal culture, the beauty standard is acting as a tool to keep those with less privilege at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Cosmetic procedures have become a type of status symbol for aspirational women, the new designer bag. It is a way for those with the privilege to keep and increase their advantage, while those who can’t participate are given little choice but to cut corners in order to do so.
Unless we work to change things, we are approaching a future in which our beauty standard evolves to an ever-expensive ideal, further increasing the opportunity gap between classes.
‘I’m not ugly, I’m just poor’ may just be a meme – but the reality behind the satire paints a terrifying vision for the future.”
The Ozempic Effect doesn’t just create a future of high-protein Oreos, but governs social equity and opportunity.
After all, we live in a society of biomedicalization. Scholar Melina Sherman PhD shares,
“...Medical interventions are no longer imposed by only medical professionals but also function as ‘technologies of the self’ — forms of self-government and self-regulation that individuals apply to themselves.”
With the death of the expert, we’re each our own doctors — our health is a personal project, moral pursuit and chance for social hierarchy. Health is no longer about overcoming illness, but about endless optimization.
Skeptics believe Ozempic is a total non-story.
They argue: Isn’t it likely that many may just keep snacking, now empowered with a new backstop? Walmart claims total checkout prices are down because of the drug, but isn’t it more likely this is a result of today’s exorbitant cost of living? (And sorry, but if they’re not surveying customers, how exactly is Walmart segmenting shopper data by those on and off drugs?) And meanwhile, a 15% weight loss for someone obese unfortunately still often leaves them obese. One study found that 2–in-3 people on these drugs stop within a year because of weight loss plateauing, prohibitive costs, and severe nausea and vomiting. Meanwhile, attorneys are busy consolidating roughly 20 lawsuits against Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, claiming people weren’t properly warned about the likelihood of stomach paralysis and intestinal paralysis or obstruction.
Some analysts call Ozempic a bubble waiting to pop.
On the other hand, the drug appears to not just impact weight loss, but addiction and substance abuse, heart attack risk, liver disease and kidney failure. We also can’t curb our pursuit of vanity. In the age of social media #spon and OnlyFans, our faces and bodies are commodities. After all, generics of Ozempic are on the way. Costs will drop... at least in the coming decades as patents expire. That 7% adoption may be nothing if we gain a better understanding of the drug’s long-term consequences and side effects are sorted out.
But here’s the thing:
Regardless if Ozempic itself takes over the world, Ozempic is a signal of radical longevity advancements on their way.
In 1900, the average life expectancy of a newborn was 32. By 2021, this figure doubled to 71. In every year since 1950, average life expectancy around the world has risen by 18 weeks. Wealthy countries aren’t just living longer. The gap in life expectancy between rich and poor countries has been halved, from 25 to now 12 years.
Erin Kim, a strategic advisor with a background in biotech and life sciences, shares with me that with an AI, ML and automation-enhanced tools stack, R&D teams will have “no problem” producing more drugs like Ozempic in the years ahead.
Allied Market Research Group estimates that the total value of longevity and anti-senescence therapies was $25.1B in 2020, and will reach $44.2B by 2030.
Despite barriers including investments, regulation, talent and geo-political patent races, Big Pharma has always been fine. From statins and SSRIs, to now drugs like Ozempic, there is an inevitable pipeline of more culturally-defining drugs on their way.
Not for anything, when was the last time Big Pharma was perceived so favorably? Today, The Nordisk Foundation counts $114B in assets and Lilly Endowment has $40B – now just the second largest private philanthropic foundation in the U.S. behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It’s the Big Pharma big rebrand.
De-aging. Anti-aging. The Longevity Movement.
Whatever you want to call it, with an increased development and impact of these medical breakthroughs, cultural side effects are imminent – their ripples far-reaching.
How may life milestones like marriage or having children shift as lifespans lengthen? How may our perception of income and retirement stretch if we require more money to survive? If we rely less on social services, where is that money then reallocated to? And how may our existing healthcare services further strain — after all, living longer doesn’t mean living healthier longer?
Medical advancements offer us more than just the promise of longevity; they challenge our social structures.
The Ozempic Effect underscores that the implications of medical progress extend far beyond an individual’s body, influencing industries, aesthetics and culture in ways we never may have foreseen.
As we brace for change – whatever it may be – there’s a collective opportunity to weigh the full spectrum of consequences... especially those hinging upon economic disparity.
We’ve always been able to buy health and beauty, but where’s the line to this truth?
Always. question. hype.
The real invitation with The Ozempic Effect is to not just consider these social side effects of our modern medicine, but to avoid the trappings of sensational speculation and exaggeration.
With endless potential social side effects, The Ozempic Effect preys upon and perpetuates hype. And even further, The Ozempic Effect hypnotizes us to believe that “one side” always wins out. We rarely consider the possibility that simultaneous outcomes can cancel each other out, resulting in zero change.
For example: With thinner, healthier humans, do gyms benefit now that more can participate comfortably, or do gyms lose because there is less of an obligation to workout? Maybe it’s both.
Like the allure of beauty or longevity, there’s a hypnotizing spell to the social side effects of our medical breakthroughs.
But what’s the right dosage of this reactivity?
Perhaps our evolution is not the medicine we create, but the maturity and responsibility we take on when dealing with our side effects.
How may we calmly and rationally discuss what comes next?
Now that’s a breakthrough.