Bill Maher and Joe Rogan slammed the latest weight-loss craze to sweep a desperately obese nation as a vehicle for Wall Street profits over metabolic health.
“We have given up on the idea that obesity is something that can be contained by exercise and diet,” Maher said on Saturday’s episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience.” “It’s now a disease.”
The HBO comedian went on to highlight the public fixation on Ozempic, the name-brand Type 2 diabetes medication for semaglutide being prescribed off-label to help patients lose weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 42 percent of American adults are obese.
“I was reading about Ozempic,” Maher said. “They have zero clue why it works.”
Maher didn’t name the story, but a piece from The New York Times in August outlined how medical professionals do not have clear answers surrounding the apparent success of new weight loss drugs such as Ozempic.
“In fact, much about the drugs remains shrouded in mystery,” The Times reported. “Researchers discovered by accident that exposing the brain to a natural hormone at levels never seen in nature elicited weight loss. They really don’t know why, or if the drugs may have long-term side effects.”
Side effects listed on Ozempic’s website include nausea, stomach pain, and constipation. The Cut ran a feature last fall on the dark side of Ozempic’s commercial success with the headline, “You Might Go Through Hell for You Post-Ozempic Body.”
Dr. Sudeep Singh, a medical director at a concierge medical practice in Miami, told the magazine about half his patients prescribed the medicine experience gastrointestinal side effects. Yet Ozempic remains “the most common medication that I get asked about.”
“Everybody knows. Everyone’s asking about it. My mom’s asking. My neighbors are asking about it. The news is out,” Singh said.
The drugs’ blockbuster success has driven profits so high that The New York Times wrote another story in August about how it is “reshaping Denmark’s economy.”
“They know that it works, just not why,” Maher said on Rogan’s program. “This would bother me … that if they’re giving me something and they’re like ‘ok, this new miracle pill, just take it. We’re working on the reason why it might do this to you, but until then, just f-ck it.'”
Rogan responded by noting there is “no biological free lunch either” when it comes to weight loss. The host cited research from Dr. Peter Attia, the author of a book on aging published in March, that found popular weight-loss drugs eroded lean muscle mass.
“If you’re taking an injection that makes you less hungry, something’s going on that’s probably not good,” Rogan said.
A May report from The Wall Street Journal noted patients who quit taking Ozempic often see their weight go back up.
“Patient testimonies have focused not only on the dramatic effect on their waistlines, but also on how quickly many seem to pack the pounds back on if they stop taking the injections,” the report read. “That may not be ideal for patients, but for Wall Street it is a feature rather than a bug.”
In other words, Ozempic is a lucrative and permanent treatment for a curable condition.
Maher went on to complain about the knee-jerk effort by the corporate press to declare obesity a disease on its own rather than a symptom of a toxic diet.
“You cannot find an article on the front-page or in the op-ed page of the New York Times in the last couple years that has any other belief than this one,” Maher said, “that it is a disease, it is not within a person’s control.”
The reason for that lies in the American Medical Association’s (AMA) designation of obesity as a disease in 2013. Since then, journalists have been advised by groups such as the Obesity Action Coalition to recharacterize obese people in stories as individuals with “excess weight” instead of “severely obese.”
Guidelines from the Obesity Action Coalition encourage reporters to “not place an unnecessary or distorted emphasis on body weight.”
“Very often, media coverage of obesity is biased with an over-emphasis on individual responsibility, ignoring important societal, economic, biological, and environmental contributors of obesity,” the guidelines read.
“Fifty years ago, we looked like completely different people,” Maher said. “In 50 years, did we evolve?”
Rogan blamed the obesity epidemic on decades of diet changes engineered by the food industry to encourage the consumption of ultra-processed products with the help of government subsidies.
“The sugar industry paid off scientists to put the blame on saturated fat,” Rogan said, which “changed peoples’ eating.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed an update to the agency’s definition of “healthy,” which would promote foods such as salmon with higher amounts of saturated fat over ultra-processed cereals. Major food manufacturers behind Fruity Pebbles, Froot Loops, and Lucky Charms have responded with litigation threats to keep the “healthy” label on boxes.
“Food companies,” Maher noted, “have labs where they go in and test how much fat, sugar, and salt we can put in this thing to make it as addictive as possible.”
Indeed, sugar, a primary ingredient in cereals advertised to children, was found in a 2007 study to be more rewarding than cocaine.