Brozempic, Gender Stereotypes, and Obesity Care

The Man with the MonoclePerhaps it was inevitable. Last week, the Times plunged into stereotypes about obesity care and gender, asking “Is the era of ‘Brozempic’ upon us?” The spark for the story comes from the efforts of telehealth businesses trying to crack the code for reaching men with concerns about obesity.

It can be awkward.

The cultural baggage of seeking help with obesity for men is certainly different and arguably more daunting for men.  Nurse practitioner Chace Franks from Owensboro, KY, explains:

“Men are slower to ask for help. There’s some shame in the society and media about taking medication for weight management. The comments I get about taking ‘the easy way out’ — most of those come from men.”

Media studies professor Emily Contois is more blunt about it:

“Weight loss has been understood as feminine and feminizing, not just in the U.S. but in similar Western countries.”

Clearly, telehealth startups aimed at men want to change this. “We’re not mommying you,” says the founder of Fella Health. “We’re a mechanic. You’re bringing a car in that needs to get fixed.” Cue the male grunt.

Mostly Women in Obesity Trials

In the pivotal SURMOUNT-1 study of tirzepatide for treating obesity, two-thirds of the people who enrolled were women. If anything, this was less lopsided in favor of women than most clinical trials of obesity treatment. Three-quarters of the subjects in the STEP-1 trial for semaglutide were women.

It is a simple fact that women with obesity face more pressure or feel more strongly about dealing with it.

But Then There’s Heart Health

However, when it comes to the bias in heart health, the situation is exactly the opposite. Men are overrepresented. Gender bias in the cardiovascular care is unmistakable. And this showed up in the landmark SELECT study of preventing major cardiovascular events by treating obesity. This study enrolled 84% white men.

When President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack, it created a teachable moment that framed cardiac health as a legitimate issue for powerful men. The rest is history. Weight management in cardiac rehabilitation became a key entry point for men into obesity care.

Will the rise of advanced obesity medicines change the gender dynamic in obesity care? Or reinforce it? We can see both scenarios as credible.

Click here for more on this from the New York Times. For a more scholarly view of gender and obesity, click here.

The Man with the Monocle, painting by Amedeo Modigliani / WikiArt

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April 19, 2024