Do Drug Makers Tell It Like It Is?

As we have seen, the manufacture and promotion of new weight-loss drugs have done a few funny things to the English language, intentionally or not. Some of the results are funny just for being dumb, like the prediction that a change in the drugs’ cost may improve affordability. Sure; or it may make affordability even more impossible. A change will be either positive or negative, and “may” is a weasel word that leaves the field wide open.

A mildly amusing linguistic trick is to mention how, if patients who are prescribed the -tide drugs want the results to last, they will have to stay on them “indefinitely.” Apparently, the word is easier to digest than “forever,” or even the classy phrase “in perpetuity.”

Another thing a manufacturer can do, which has been done, is to announce that severe, painful side effects are normal. Perhaps so, but after exposure to certain natural substances radiation burns are also “normal.” That does not mean it’s acceptable to nuke a city. Invoking the word “normal” does not magically make everything okay.

Unwarranted optimism

There are ways of expressing an idea that, while not pointedly deceptive, can still shed a more rosy light on the matter than is actually deserved. Here is an example:

Dr. Devika Umashanker […] says a significant number of patients gain back weight when they come off the drug, especially if they haven’t made real changes to their diet and exercise routine. Dr. Priya Jaisinghani […] tells her patients that stopping the drug is a bit like no longer going to the gym after having a three-times-weekly exercise routine.

Sure, if people stop doing whatever led to the weight loss, there’s a chance that the weight will be regained. The article goes on to say that “it is possible to be weaned off the medications while avoiding a rebound, but it requires a lifelong commitment to lifestyle and dietary modifications.” This turns out to be not quite the case. It seems pretty clear, by this time, that if a person were capable of a particular lifelong commitment, they would have already exercised that capability, and not be in this situation in the first place.

This brings up another word that perhaps doesn’t sound so serious when it is in Latin — “caveat” — which means warning. An authority issues a caveat about the GLP-1 drugs, namely, “When users stop the treatment all the weight lost is regained!” Yes, all, and with an exclamation mark — which is not so much a warning, as the prediction of an absolute certainty.

People want a cure to be a cure. If someone has an infection and takes antibiotics and the infection goes away, they don’t expect to have to keep taking antibiotics for the rest of their life, and that would indeed be pretty destructive. Another authority says,

And when people stop taking it, there’s often rebound weight gain that’s hard to control. In fact, a study found that most people gain back most of the weight within a year of stopping the medicine.

Not some, but most. And within a year — much more quickly than they put it on the first time. And there’s this: Journalist Allison Aubrey explains how a patient whose insurance company, going forward, will not pay for her weight-loss drug. She will have to get back on what she used to take for control of her blood pressure and blood sugar. “She is at risk of having these conditions worsen with regain of weight.” So, having been able to access her -tide drug for a short time, this woman will now be in a worse condition than before.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity Could Be Pharma’s Biggest Blockbuster Yet,”, 05/05/23
Source: “Mounjaro Weight Loss UK,”, 08/25/23
Source: “Wegovy works. But here’s what happens if you can’t afford to keep taking the drug,”, 01/30/23
Image by Mike Steele/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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