Johann Hari’s magic pill is appreciated

meIn the last two years, there has been a healthcare revolution. Semaglutide, a drug originally prescribed for diabetes under the name Ozempic, has been shown to dramatically reduce obesity and is packaged for this use as Wegovy. Other drugs have since been approved.

It’s a big thing. More than half of American and British adults are overweight or obese, and there are few truly effective treatments: prescribing a diet is almost useless. As a result, sales have been astronomical. Ozempics manufacturer Novo Nordisk is now Europe’s most valuable company.

In the latest book by Johann Haris we learn that the author himself takes semaglutide to lose weight. But he’s conflicted: In 2018’s Lost Connections, he wrote about what he sees as the overmedication of depression treatment, so he’s wary of the idea of ​​a magic pill. In any case, it talks about drug discovery and mechanisms, their health benefits, potential risks, and how we ended up in a situation where many of us are obese to begin with.

And if it came fresh, I’d think it was fine. It presents an annoying debate in a reasonably fair way. It never leans entirely toward the scary, despite a tendency to foreground low-probability risks. On the downside, its content is plain for a science book, and Haris’s breathless style always grates a little. learning things The advantages of these drugs now became clear to me, he writes, noting with surprise that obesity is bad for health.

It’s based on what I find convenient pseudonymous friends quotes often provide the perfect role at the perfect time he calls Judy, for example, helps him realize that it’s no good telling desperate people that just we should fix society, instead of providing them with effective treatment.

My skepticism here, however, is a reminder that I’m not coming at it fresh. Hari has a story. He quit his job as a columnist at the Independent in 2012 after it was revealed he had stolen quotes and smeared rivals using online puppet accounts. Hari has since admitted that he failed miserably, but the facts remain. Magic Pill never mentions this backstory or explains why we should trust him now.

So I checked the references even more carefully than I normally would, to see if the studies supported his points. Not all of them did. He argues, for example, that people who look at social media can end up with deeply distorted body images. The endnotes cite research from 2022. But in the passage itself, the 100-person study he cites in support of his point is from 1987.

Elsewhere, it claims that an educational intervention makes children half as likely to be overweight or obese. The result in question is not statistically significant and, by convention, can be considered a fluke. He also seems to think that the glucagon gene is produced in the pancreas, which suggests he doesn’t know what genes are. He talks about it long enough that I’m pretty sure it’s not a typo.

Obviously I couldn’t fact-check the anecdotes, so my notes are full of cynical little queries: Does Judy exist? The little boy in the Grand Canyon? Maybe they all do. Perhaps Hari really did develop anhedonia as a side effect, a useful point for the chapter on semaglutide and the brain. Maybe he’s changed his ways, but I can’t know for sure, and his track record makes it hard for me to have a lot of faith in him.

It’s a shame – a book needs to be written about the rise of weight loss drugs and how they will change society. But Hari has not only failed to write it; the way he has done it has undermined his already waning credibility.

Tom Chivers is a science writer with Semaphore. Magic Pill by Johann Hari is published by Bloomsbury (20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy Shipping charges may apply.

#Johann #Haris #magic #pill #appreciated
Image Source :

Leave a Comment