Novo Nordisk Brings Medical Drama Stars Into their Fatphobia-for-Profit Scheme
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The leadership team of NAAFA made me aware of a new “public service announcement.”** I clicked on the link to find the stars of various television medical dramas earnestly selling the idea that simply existing in a larger body is a disease that requires treatment.
I clicked through and found a tweet from @GreysMedical (the twitter account for the show Greys Anatomy) that said
We are destigmatizing the last shame & blame disease through storytelling & the arts. Ob*sity* is a medical condition, a treatable disease. 4 out of 10 Americans live with ob*sity, but few seek help.
It included the hashtag #ArtSavesLives
My first thought was “Novo Nordisk is behind this.” A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions when I found a press release acknowledging that “The PSA is produced by The Creative Coalition, and with gracious support from Novo Nordisk Inc.”
Before I get too far into this, I want to point out that there are far too many “shame and blame diseases” and erasing the oppression that many people with health issues experience when they are shamed and blamed in order to hyperbolize for profit adds another layer of exploitation to this.
The Creative Coalition seems to be a group of well-intentioned people who have been duped by Novo Nordisk, and “gracious” is the last word I would use to describe Novo Nordisk’s involvement in this atrocity of a video. Art absolutely does save lives, but not like this.
The press release itself shows the issues with this. It starts
THE CREATIVE COALITION’S NEW PSA SHIFTS THE OB*SITY NARRATIVE AS A NATIONAL EPIDEMIC WORSENS
You can’t end weight stigma while labeling fat people who are simply existing in the world a worsening epidemic. In fact, that is how you perpetuate weight stigma. Unfortunately, it also perpetuates profit for the diet industry and they seem to think (their) money is worth (other people’s) risk.
The PSA is chock full of cast members from medical dramas earnestly delivering Novo Nordisk’s harmful (but profitable) message. The PSA states:
“Ob*sity is a medical condition, a disease. Ob*sity is treatable.”
What it doesn’t say is that in 2012 the American Medical Association charged its Council on Science and Public Health with studying whether or not ob*sity* should be considered a disease. One year later the AMA ignored that council’s fully researched recommendation that ob*sity should NOT be declared a disease, and instead chose to declare that it is , and it’s been hand-over-fist profits ever since.
As I have written about previously, Novo Nordisk is in the midst of a massive campaign to create profit for themselves by leveraging disingenuous “anti weight stigma” messages to create a market for products that risk fat people’s lives and quality of life in an attempt to make them into thin(ner) people.
Novo Nordisk recently launched a new weight loss drug which their Chief Financial Officer Karsten Knudsen has admitted they are hoping will more than double their “ob*sity sales” by 2025 versus their 2019 baseline.
They are very clear that for this scheme to work they need to sell their drugs to the most possible people. For that, they have been committed to a long game, multi-pronged strategy to convince the world that simply existing in a fat body is a chronic, lifelong condition requiring expensive lifelong treatment.
One facet of this has included funding organizations like the “Ob*sity Action Coalition” which pretends to be an advocacy organization for fat people but is, in fact, fully funded by (and acting as a lobbying arm for) Novo Nordisk and other companies hoping to harm fat people for profit. (You can read more about this here.) Another is creating partnerships with trusted organizations that they can talk into believing that what they are doing is evidence-based and about health.
That’s why, when I saw a PSA with actors from medical dramas reading lines about how “we shouldn’t stigmatize fat people, but we should pathologize their bodies and eradicate them through expensive ‘treatments’” I was ready to bet all the money in my pockets that Novo Nordisk was behind it.
The end result of all this is that fat people are pressured to spend our time, energy, and money - not to mention risking our physical and mental health - for a product that almost never works based on the lie that it will make us healthier. And Novo Nordisk’s new drug, Wegovy, is no exception. As I wrote about in The Mighty,
The possible side effects can be serious:
Risk of thyroid c-cell tumors
Acute gallbladder disease
Acute kidney injury
Diabetic retinopathy complications
Heart rate increase
Suicidal ideation and behaviors
You cannot destigmatize fatness while suggesting that it is reasonable to risk damage to multiple organs as well as self-harm in order to be a little less fat.
And we are absolutely talking about a little less fat. Wegovy was approved based on a trial in which 33% of patients lost more than 20% of their body weight over a 68-week clinical trial period.
I imagine they are listing their trial period in weeks because it sounds longer than 1.3 years and helps avoid the obvious issue that most intentional weight loss methods show weight loss in the first year, with people gaining back all of their weight (and often more than they lost) in years two to five. Even their own graph suggests that is what is going to happen to their test subjects, with weight starting to rise pretty much exactly when they stopped tracking.
So their “anti-stigma” campaign has people suggesting that fat people should risk multiple organ issues and self-harm for a chance of losing less than 40 pounds for a year, with a high probability of total weight regain, which will likely happen even faster if someone has to go off the medication because of the many, many side effects.
And just as a reminder, this risk is totally unnecessary. As just one example, a recent analysis by Gaesser and Angadi found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that weight-neutral interventions have similar or greater health benefits than intentional weight loss attempts without these risks. Let that be a reminder that weight loss drug companies (and the “advocacy organizations” that do their dirty work) are not here to end weight stigma, or to support fat people’s health. They are here to get our money.
This kind of bait-and-switch campaign does serious harm because it co-opts that language of fat liberation, while being completely out of alignment with actual fat liberation principles, instead utilizing the cover of “destigmatizing” fatness to sell fat eugenics.
It also convinces people, including healthcare professionals and, apparently, stars of medical dramas, that you can be “against weight stigma” while still calling for the eradication of fat people.
Weight stigma is real, and it impacts fat people in every area of our lives. Shame on Novo Nordisk, The Creative Coalition, and anyone else who suggests (for profit) that the solution to weight stigma is for fat people to risk their lives and quality of life trying to change themselves to appease their oppressors. Especially doing it under the guise of “healthcare”
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*Note on language: I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor as used by the fat activist community, I use “ob*se” and “overw*ight” to acknowledge that these are terms that were created to medicalize and pathologize fat bodies, with roots in racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Please read Sabrina Strings Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrison Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.
Note I don’t link to everything I discuss in this post because I don’t want to give traffic and clicks to dangerous media.
Edited for clarity and to fix a type from 20 to 40 pounds avg weight loss in the Novo Nordisk trial with deep gratitude to the readers who pointed out the issues.
"One year later the AMA ignored that council’s fully researched recommendation to declare that it is a disease, and it’s been hand-over-fist profits ever since. " -- Just a note, I think this sentence is unclear about whether or not the council recommended obesity be declared a disease or not. It's clear on close reading, but reading at article-speed made me do a double-take.
Also: lololololol at this media campaign. People of nearly all sizes have been dreaming of a simple pill to keep them at an "ideal" weight for decades. If you invented one, you wouldn't need to market it at all: word-of-mouth would spread it like wildfire. The fact that they have to glitz it up like this means either that (a) it doesn't work, (b) its side effects are unacceptable, or--what seems to be the case!--(c) it both doesn't work *and* its side effects are unacceptable.
Also lolololololol at "obesity is treatable, but few seek help". By the CDC's metrics, like 90% of adults labeled obese are actively dieting. They are already seeking the treatment that everybody and their mother claims is the solution! Why would we even need a pill if dieting is so easy, like everyone claims?
Veneering lies with faux concern is so disgusting.
This is a great issue Ragen, thank you! I am really glad I read this before I saw any of the garbage coming from The Creative Coalition. I haven’t watched Grey’s recently and not sure I want to start again, though I’ve enjoyed seeing them tackle issues with more nuance in later seasons and thought I saw glimmers of them being able to start talking about weight stigma...but I think that’s unlikely to be the case.