The big news in weight management this month has been the approval in the UK of the drug Semaglutide. It can now be prescribed to patients living with health complications caused by obesity, and works by reducing appetite to bring about fat loss.

Is this a miracle drug, a cure for our nation’s obesity crisis, a kind of “cheating”, a waste of NHS money? All, some or none of these?

You may have come across this type of reaction to the news: “Why is the NHS spending scarce resources on a weight loss intervention? It’s not like it’s treating an actual illness, they’ve chosen to be that way.”

For the vast majority of people struggling with their weight, obesity isn’t an active choice. Why would anyone choose to feel physically uncomfortable, socially stigmatised, be at greater risk of a range of serious health issues?

We have had the option of bariatric surgery for some years now – a highly invasive, permanent treatment with significant associated risks and a lifetime of eating differently. What if people who might have been considered for surgery are given the option of trying Semaglutide first? At the very least it might reduce the number of patients travelling abroad for cheaper surgery and suffering the consequences. for certain individuals living with obesity, this treatment could change, and even save, their lives.

What’s more, obesity currently costs the NHS around £6 billion a year ( , so investing in effective therapies can make sound financial sense too.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to see every day how it’s possible for people living with obesity to lose weight and improve their health through behaviour and lifestyle changes, so would be the first to say that medical intervention isn’t the right option for everyone.

To understand the limitations of this treatment, it helps to be aware of some of the many factors that contribute to obesity in the first place.

There are so many different reasons why some people develop obesity and others don’t, including: genetics, upbringing, environment, trauma, work, personal finances, education, opportunities, health conditions… For some people, maintaining a healthy weight is easy; for others it absolutely isn’t. Judgement doesn’t help, understanding our different experiences does.

For all of these reasons, this drug can’t be seen as a magic wand or quick fix. In fact, it’s far from being an easy option. The injections can cause unpleasant side-effects and the treatment needs to be backed up with support from medical professionals and diet specialists. Also, this isn’t a treatment for life – it can only be taken for up to two years, and although the difference to weight loss is significant, it isn’t as dramatic as we might think (around 10%).

What’s more, it’s been made clear that the injections alone aren’t enough to bring about weight loss. The treatment has to be delivered in conjunction with nutrition and lifestyle interventions, which can be tough enough for anyone, but perhaps more so if the side-effects are kicking in, on top of everything else. An easy option this is not.

If patients receiving the injections have the support of dieticians and nutritionists, they will develop strategies and lifestyle changes that will be essential for changing food behaviours once the treatment ends. The injections will make it easier to eat less, but once the weight is off, it will go back on pretty quickly if nothing has been done to address the underlying causes of the initial weight gain.

Unfortunately, with NHS services already under enormous pressure, there may not be enough diet professionals to support those patients who need it. GPs themselves have neither the time nor often the training to offer that lifestyle support. They will know that prescribing this drug can be a short-cut to improving their patients’ conditions, potentially leading to it being offered as a first resort rather than a last – a temporary cure for a deep-seated problem.

I have worked with many clients whose struggles with obesity have affected every area of their life – and seen how transformative weight loss can be, for both physical and mental health. This new treatment will help countless people who currently live with a debilitating condition, but to have lasting impact, support, education and understanding are crucial.