Reader Alison let me know about a new campaign that Novo Nordisk has launched to sell their new “weight loss” drug, that is part of the long-game of those in the weight loss industry to expand their market by pathologizing living in a fat body. I was even more upset to see that The Mighty was a partner, since they should absolutely know better. Having written for them before I reached out to my editor and received an explanation, an apology for their mistake in promoting it, and an offer to write a paid piece on their site critical of the program and their involvement.
Here is a preview:
A new campaign called “It’s Bigger Than Me” has launched worldwide. The campaign purports to be about “destigmatizing ob*sity” but is, in fact, funded by Novo Nordisk as part of what they have promised will be “one of the fastest Novo Nordisk launches after approval ever” of their new weight loss drug Wegovy. Per their Chief Financial Officer, Karsten Knudsen, they hope to more than double their “ob*sity sales” by 2025 versus their 2019 baseline.
Novo Nordisk has explained to the press that one of the barriers to this massive profit play is insurance coverage (including Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA), and so they are using campaigns like this to try to turn fat people, desperate to escape the weight stigma that the diet industry perpetuates, into an unpaid marketing force to do their dirty work for them.
This part of their massive, profit-driven rollout is the kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing campaign that the “Obesity Action Coalition” was purpose-built to launch and run. The OAC bills itself as an advocacy group for fat people but is, in fact, fully funded by (and operates as a lobbying arm of) powerful pharmaceutical interests that seek to sell progressively more dangerous and expensive weight loss treatments. As you can see on their website, their “Chairman’s Council” (aka group of funders) is made up of weight loss drug and surgery companies, with Novo Nordisk at the top, as their sole “Platinum” member with a minimum funding commitment of $100,000.
The Media Empathy Foundation appears to be a legitimate organization with the noble and critical goal of destigmatizing illness. They should, but apparently don’t, understand the difference between their actual mission and this co-option of anti-stigma language for money. So instead of undoing harm they are perpetuating it. They are responsible for the harm that they are causing here and they should address it and do whatever they can to repair that harm.
As for The Mighty, it was heartbreaking to see their logo on the site as a named partner. In response to my pitch, editorial director Ben Berkley shared with me that The Mighty has a business relationship with Novo Nordisk and through that affiliation, the editorial team supported the initial launch of the “It’s Bigger Than Me” campaign with a social media post. (Editor note: The Mighty was not paid to promote the “It’s Bigger Than Me” campaign.) Berkley said the editorial team looks to fulfill these partner requests as a way of navigating the balance between editorial independence and the funding The Mighty receives through pharmaceutical sponsorships, which allow The Mighty to continue operating. At the time, Berkley told me he was “foolishly unaware” of the harmful nature of the campaign and, while he shared that he didn’t know if The Mighty’s larger business relationship with Novo Nordisk would continue, he assured me The Mighty’s editorial team would no longer be promoting or supporting the campaign. He promised to invite this article’s submission (and others like it) that are critical of the “It’s Bigger Than Me” campaign, wanting to stand “as a force for good in combating fatphobia and any other instance of body biases.”
I appreciate the candid response and the opportunity to use The Mighty’s platform to speak out about the harm that is being done, and I hope to see them publicly withdrawal their support from the project, acknowledge the harm and actively work to repair it, including insisting that their logo and information be removed from the campaign page.
The weight loss industry has been working hard to co-opt the idea of ending weight stigma and transform it into a marketing tool, and they have deep pockets to hire the best people to do it, so it can be difficult to tell what’s going on. Here are some of the ways you can tell this campaign is about weight loss propaganda and not about ending weight stigma or supporting fat liberation:
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