Last week’s Emmy awards saw big winners gush with gratitude over their agents, managers, and audiences, but there was one notable benefactor to many stars that went unthanked: the injectable drug semaglutide, whose brand name is Ozempic.
The drug is an insulin regulator for the pre-diabetic, made by the Danish pharma juggernaut Novo Nordisk, whose primary side effect is dramatic weight loss. It has saturated the industry in recent months, helping the beautiful and wealthy shed extra pounds in the never-ending Los Angeles pastime of optimizing appearances. Hollywood nutritionist Matt Mahowald tells Variety that the chief benefits of the injections are “moderating and pulling back insulin secretion, and slowing down your stomach from emptying. It promotes satiation from food.”
One top powerbroker told Variety that half of her call sheet last week was full of friends and clients wanting to discuss the risks of Ozempic, which has claimed devotees from every corner of the industry. Moguls, reality starlets, veteran film producers and, of course, actors are quietly singing the drug’s praises on Signal, the encrypted messaging app mostly used for confidential conversations. Hair, makeup and styling teams for celebrities have come to accept the injections as part of grooming rituals ahead of major events. In a matter of months, it has become the worst kept secret in Hollywood – especially given that its most enthusiastic users are not pre-diabetic and do not require the drug. It is currently being supplied by doctors and nutritionists, though rumor has it you can also score the drug at medical spas in Arizona. Naturally, it ain’t cheap.
“It’s easily going to be $1,200 to $1,500 per month. If you go out and buy an Ozempic pen from a pharmacist, that’s what you’re getting charged,” Mahowald adds.
The feverish response from industry types, however, has created headaches at the major insurance companies.
“It’s become a huge problem, everyone jumping on this bandwagon. The insurance companies are refusing to cover this for anyone who is not diabetic. It’s led to panic. Pharmacies have units on back orders through December,” adds Mahowald.
More concerning, according to numerous reports, is that an overwhelming demand is leaving those who need the injections grappling with a reduced supply. A second version of semaglutide called Wegovy, which specifically targets obesity, is also making the rounds and seems to be scarcely available.
The drug made international headlines three months ago after going viral on TikTok, as the trend #MyOzempicJourney showcased eye-popping transformations (the Guardian reported the #Ozempic hashtag had been viewed 74 million times on the platform). Earlier this month, Town and Country wrote a dispatch claiming the medicine was the talk of coastal dinner parties. Glamor magazine followed suits.
“Obesity is an epidemic,” cautioned Dr. Zhaoping Li, chief of clinical nutrition at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The issue is that this is one of the tools in our box, it is not the end-all. The longest study done on these injections was conducted over less than two years. A lot of questions have not been answered.”
Dr. Li added that the maximum weight loss exhibited in most patients is 15% of body mass, bringing us back to the awful truth that the resourceful people of Hollywood are loathe to hear: “It comes down to lifestyle. Activity, eating right, and stress management.”
Like any miracle weight loss drug, there is skepticism about long-term use. In addition to a leaner figure, a notable side effect is “gastrointestinal phenomena — bloating, constipation, diarrhea,” according to Town and Country.
When asked about this unpleasant risk, one talent publicist put it bluntly: “Who cares? Everyone who works in this business has IBS, anyway.”