Body Inclusivity and Weight Loss in the Ozempic Era

A young woman stands on a scale while a doctor records her weight and body measurements.

During the past several years, body inclusivity (paywalled) has become an important component of DEIA. Body inclusivity is an evidence-centered approach (paywalled) that challenges inaccurate notions that equate thinness with better health and physical attractiveness. The movement instead advocates for all body types to be accepted. So-called plus-sized athletes, fitness experts, and food influencers demonstrate that non-thin bodies are healthy and capable of wellness feats, including cross-country trails and marathons.

Critics of body inclusivity point to the global obesity epidemic—and other health-related matters associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure, hypertension, and diabetes—as the rationale for emphasizing weight loss. Additionally, some medical experts assert that obesity is straining the already overtaxed health care system as the ripple effects of the disease and other comorbidities draw heavily on limited human and financial resources. While the data is clear about the complications of obesity, rarely are economic and environmental conditions factored into why some communities struggle with high levels of obesity.

Nonetheless, “fat shaming” (paywalled), sometimes referred to as anti-fatness, and the elevation of thinness remain persistent issues within the medical professions, both socially and professionally. Archaic health measures such as body mass index are still inexplicably reinforced as medical industry standards. Mass media plays a role in conditioning society to accept the “right” body type with the understanding that it will yield wealth, health, and popularity, especially among girls (paywalled). This conditioning is supported by an ugly truth for women especially: being thin can dramatically impact one’s socioeconomic standing. A 2011 research study (paywalled) determined that thin women earn much higher salaries than their counterparts of larger size. Earlier this year, The Economist featured a story (paywalled) with accompanying videos that explore the “secret economics of thinness” for women.

The convergence of mass media conditioning, the obesity crisis, and weight bias that impacts economic well-being appear to have contributed to the rise in popularity of an assortment of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, although Ozempic was initially created to control diabetes. Those able to access these now elusive and often expensive drugs report significant weight loss of 30 pounds or more within one year. While some people hide their use of the medicines due to fears of stigmatization, several celebrities celebrate their Ozempic-fueled weight loss publicly.

However, gaining access to Ozempic and Wegovy requires a prescription and medical insurance to supplement the cost of the drugs. Those without medical insurance that can or will cover these weight-loss medications are subjected to high co-payments or total out-of-pocket expenditures of around $1000 or more per prescription. Therefore, it appears that only the most economically privileged benefit from these products.

What does the wide-scale adoption of weight loss drugs mean for those unable to afford these drugs, especially within BIPOC communities? Is Big Pharma setting another economic divide into motion during an era of extraordinary income inequality? How will Ozempic, Wegovy, and other weight-loss medications impact and influence body inclusivity and fat studies? There are so many more questions to probe on this topic that are sure to impact society nearly as significantly as AI. Higher education researchers must continuously examine the ongoing societal reconfigurations—physical or technologically driven—that can drive deeper wedges in our socioeconomic fabric. Understanding all circumstances by which society is being further stratified is a critical step to addressing inequities and systemic ills like anti-fatness.

Alexia Hudson-Ward headshot

About the author:

Alexia Hudson-Ward is Associate Director of Research, Learning, and Strategic Partnerships, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.