Waiting for the Bus

Throwing People with Obesity Under the Bus

CNN, we’re looking at you. Your story claiming that “people with diabetes pay the price” for semaglutide use in obesity is problematic. The story falsely describes the demand for semaglutide as “a hot new weight loss fad.” That is simply wrong. Providing medical care for people who are trying to deal with the complex chronic disease of obesity is not a fad. Throwing people living with obesity under the bus is not OK. Not in the least.

CNN is not alone in spinning this sensational narrative. Rolling Stone recently asked: who deserves these drugs? They spin their story to suggest that if people use semaglutide for weight loss, their motivations must be “aesthetic,” making them unworthy.

The Real Problem

Semaglutide and other drugs that are coming along in this space are serious medicines that represent a breakthrough for treating obesity. The need for them is not trivial. Obesity has become a very common medical condition that often goes untreated. For too long, healthcare providers simply dispensed vague and ineffective advice to lose weight. Then they wound up treating the complications of obesity that typically result. Professor Caroline Apovian explains:

“Lately I’ve seen this story line in too many places. It reflects a bias, promoting the false idea that obesity is merely a matter of will power. In contrast, these stories present type 2 diabetes as a real disease for which people need these drugs. The truth is that people with obesity have a chronic disease, too, and they need these drugs just as much as people with diabetes. The real problem is that the supply right now is inadequate to meet the medical need I see every day in my clinic. When reporters put the blame for this on patients, they are doing great harm to a vulnerable population and promoting weight stigma.

“Diabetes is a complication of obesity. If we deny people these drugs for obesity and wait until they develop diabetes we will be failing them.”

Promoting Weight Stigma

To the Obesity Advocacy Coalition, an advocacy organization for people living with obesity, this implicit promotion of weight stigma is intolerable. CEO Joe Nadglowski says:

“These headlines reflect implicit bias that has become insidious. They assume that people with obesity don’t deserve medical care – they should just go on a diet or join a gym to cure obesity. But for many if not most people, that’s just not enough to overcome this chronic disease. This narrative is promoting weight stigma. It has to stop.”

Harming Patients

The bottom line is that this kind of reporting is irresponsible. Harvard’s Fatima Cody Stanford explains:

“This type of story pushes the very wrong idea that people with obesity don’t deserve medical care. Sensational reporting like this is unethical. It harms my patients.”

The funny thing is that the facts in the story make it clear that the need to treat obesity is great. The person with diabetes it profiles is someone who could not maintain a lower weight simply through diet and exercise. Using semaglutide helped him lose weight AND control his blood sugar.

Health reporters, please. Stop sensationalizing and trivializing the need for these drugs to treat obesity. The real problem here is that the medical need is great and, so far, the supply has been inadequate. It’s not OK to throw people with obesity under the bus.

Click here for the sensational spin from CNN, here for more on the supply problems with these drugs, and here for more on the importance of treating obesity seriously.

Waiting for the Bus, photograph by Sam Javanrouh, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


December 30, 2022

2 Responses to “Throwing People with Obesity Under the Bus”

  1. December 30, 2022 at 10:30 am, Allen Browne said:


    Check the article by Dr Gabbay – there is intelligent life down here – and he is chief science and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.


  2. January 01, 2023 at 9:14 am, Murat Ustun said:

    Dear editor,
    Discrimination against obesity patients is perpetuated by creating the perception that they are usurping the rights of diabetics because a drug that offers significant weight loss for the first time was originally developed for the treatment of diabetes.

    Those who see obesity only as a problem of willpower prefer to use the same judgement and label bariatric surgery as ” easy and lazy choice”.

    Congratulations and thanks for your article drawing attention to this stigma.