Weight-Loss Drugs
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The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on what your friends have a right to know about your health.

My husband, who has struggled with his weight for decades, has decided under the recommendation of his doctor to begin taking Zepbound, an injectable specifically for weight loss. When he starts to lose weight, we know he will be congratulated and questioned by friends, co-workers and associates, as he has before when he has had significant weight loss. Are we obliged to tell people how he is losing weight? Would it be OK to be dishonest? — Name Withheld
From the Ethicist:
Your husband, you indicate, has a sound medical reason for starting this treatment. It should make him healthier, and if it does, your friends ought to be happy for him. But you’re probably thinking that they’ll congratulate him on the assumption that he lost weight by sticking to a diet or an exercise regimen — by some newfound act of will — and would look askance if they knew he had done so through drugs.
That response would reflect a tendency to relate obesity to some deficiency of character. Moralizing about weight management in this way is misguided and unhelpful. Various studies have shown that such attitudes are not only demotivating but also associated with disgust toward and discrimination against people with obesity — and that the experience of weight stigma can be seriously disabling. When obesity is a threat to health, it’s better to think of it as a problem to be solved than a vice to be conquered.
The notion that people who are taking drugs like Zepbound — known as GLP-1 receptor agonists — are choosing the “easy way” may also reflect a misconception about how easy it is. Side effects of these drugs include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, indigestion and pancreatitis. (Surveys find that a high percentage of patients prescribed these drugs, including those taking them for diabetes, discontinue them owing to GI complaints.)
Is your husband obliged to disclose that he is on Zepbound? Of course not. His medical history is indeed his business. But if questions arise, I hope that your husband considers candor. To combat moralizing about obesity, it might help if those who have decided to lose weight were frank about the strategies that have worked for them.
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