Jumble of Skeletons of Newspaper Boys

Activating a UK Weight Loss Sensation Machine

We can hear the rumble. The UK media sensation machine is gearing up for an onslaught of weight loss headlines that will misdirect millions of people about an important medical advance. If you have any doubt, sample the headlines from mainstream UK news sources. The Independent captures the spirit of British press on this subject with its headline:

“Hollywood ‘skinny jab’ to be sold in UK”

Even the BBC has latched onto the sensationalism, opening its story on the coming UK launch of Wegovy (semaglutide) with:

“UK High Street chemists are set to sell customers a controversial weight loss jab used by some famous people, including Twitter owner Elon Musk.”

Weight Loss Versus Obesity Treatment

Lots of people want to lose weight. But the number of people who are ready to wrap their heads around dealing with the complex chronic disease of obesity is much smaller. Over the years, we have talked with literally thousands of people living with obesity, and one thing is absolutely clear. They find it much more comfortable to talk about “losing a little weight” than actually dealing with obesity. It’s a comfortable euphemism – much like “a touch of sugar” serves for avoiding the subject of diabetes.

But the trouble is that simply losing a little weight, though doable, isn’t terribly helpful all by itself, because it’s a short-term strategy for a long-term medical condition. Physiology drives the body to regain that weight in the absence of medical care to address the metabolic problem.

Real obesity care is about improving a person’s health, not about making fat people thin.

Health Improvement

Health improvement is the reason that the launch of semaglutide for obesity is so important. Effective obesity treatment can prevent diabetes or put it into remission. It can improve many measures of heart health. In the case of bariatric surgery, we know it prevents premature deaths and there is some hope that new, more effective obesity drugs will do the same.

So really, when the members of UK press crank up the weight loss sensation machine for semaglutide, they are committing the cardinal sin of journalism. They are burying the lede.

The lede here is a medical breakthrough in treatment for the most prevalent chronic disease in the UK. Full stop.

For further perspective on problems with misreporting on obesity and sensationalism in health reporting, click here, here, and here.

Jumble of Skeletons of Newspaper Boys, illustration by Jose Guadalupe Posada / WikiArt

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February 15, 2023

4 Responses to “Activating a UK Weight Loss Sensation Machine”

  1. February 15, 2023 at 7:46 am, Claire said:

    Herein lies the problem.. any solution?

    • February 15, 2023 at 8:42 am, Ted said:

      Better health reporting is the solution. Look to the work of Julia Belluz and Gina Kolata for examples of how to do good reporting on this subject.

  2. February 15, 2023 at 9:49 am, Allen Browne said:

    Or how about this for the lede:

    Real obesity care is about improving a person’s health, not about making fat people thin.


  3. February 15, 2023 at 9:58 am, Allen Browne said:

    Bias, stigma,and lack of knowledge about obesity as a disease have many manifestations.