New US survey suggests that doctor recommendations, not social media, are driving demand for Ozempic

As Aesthetic Medicine has previously reported, the diabetes drug, Ozempic, has become viral on social media apps like TikTok, where it is being touted as a fat loss-inducing injection.

Now discussions around Ozempic’s use and its prescription as a weight loss tool have been quantified by a new survey exploring its ongoing popularity in the United States. The research suggests that although medical providers may not be frequently prescribing the drug, they could be fuelling interest in weight-loss injections more so than social media.

Tebra, a company that provides operating systems for independent healthcare providers, recently surveyed 1,024 Americans as well as 92 of its medical practitioners about their thoughts on Ozempic for weight loss.

The survey found that approaching half (42%) of medical providers have had patients without diabetes ask for an Ozempic prescription, with 36% revealing they had faced backlash for not prescribing it. In total, only 18% had prescribed the drug for weight loss.

"The findings suggest to me that providers are taking shortages and their patient’s health seriously," says the vice president of organic marketing at Tebra, Jesse Noyes. “To me, this shows medical professionals are taking their Hippocratic oath seriously."

Moreover, 51% of the Tebra medical practitioner respondents also said that Ozempic should not be covered by insurance. This is likely to limit its practicality as a weight loss tool for those without a medical need, by making the cost of Ozempic relatively high for patients; without insurance, a prescription can reach $1,300 (£1,050). However, as previously reported, it may lead to a dangerous rise in unregulated purchases, for at-home use.

Most interestingly though, although social media is commonly suggested as driving significant demand for Ozempic, it wasn’t the most popular source of information about it. Doctor recommendations led the way, with 41% of the Americans surveyed reporting medical professionals were responsible for their interest in the drug. This was followed by 27% who were influenced by friends and family, while social media ranked third with 24% of individuals reporting this was where they found the information.

Moreover, despite 76% of medical practitioners believing that celebrity endorsements will lead to Ozempic misuse, the survey found that such recommendations only influenced 9% of respondents.

"Probably the most interesting finding was what spurred interest among patients in taking Ozempic,” says Noyes. “Social media is certainly playing a role, and that could lead to some concerning issues or trends. But 41% said it was a doctor’s recommendation. That demonstrates that despite social media’s increasing influence, the relationship between doctor and patient remains paramount."

That said, it should also be noted that age group and racial analysis were not outlined within the research. For this reason, more data is arguably needed to fully understand the impact of social media on interest in Ozempic, especially among millennial and Gen-Z age groups where its social media use is most prevalent.

Another notable finding from the research was that 14% of the medical practitioners surveyed personally took Ozempic – although the information was unclear on in which capacity - and 58% would recommend Ozempic for weight loss. This does suggest the drug’s effectiveness for fat reduction and indicates the need for further discussion on whether it can be safely and effectively used for this purpose, without compromising supply for those in medical need.

It's also why honest conversations about both the benefits and risks of taking the drug are so important to have in the clinic with your patients. The FDA lists possible side effects of Ozempic as including low blood sugar, inflammation of the pancreas, complications of diabetes-related retina disease (diabetic retinopathy), and allergic reactions. In the Tebra survey, nausea (45%), headache (32%), and diarrhoea (31%) were the most reported side effects.

For reference, Ozempic is a semaglutide injection developed by Novo Nordisk for type 2 diabetes patients. It is FDA-approved for improving blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes in combination with diet and exercise. Novo Nordisk has another semaglutide injection developed specifically for weight loss called Wegvoy – although this is, ironically, yet to reach the same recognition among the public as Ozempic.