Boris Johnson’s first newspaper column, after his political career ended in disgrace, is about a weight loss injection that didn’t work for him. It wasn’t a commentary on the current state of British politics, it wasn’t an insider’s view of how our government is failing, it wasn’t a hatch-job on his new frenemy Rishi Sunak, it wasn’t even interesting. It was a strange, rambling and badly written piece about his failure to lose weight.
The column starts with Johnson noticing that a cabinet colleague has lost a lot of weight, though he doesn’t say who. Johnson assumes the man is either in love or going to make a bid for the Tory leadership (!!). Eventually, after a lot of waffling and a quote from Julius Caesar (!!), Johnson finds out the weight loss was due to his colleague taking the injection Ozempic (Brand name of Semaglutide). So Johnson rushed to a doctor for a prescription of this “magic potion”.
Johnson’s understanding of what Semaglutide is and how it works is confused at best. He thought it was a drug designed to suppress appetite and cause the stomach to slow down and digest food “with reptilian slowness”. Semaglutide is a drug used only in the treatment of diabetes, it is not a weigh loss drug. It works by binding to GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) receptor to increase insulin secretion, suppress glucagon secretion, and slow gastric emptying . Its main action is to aid a person’s body remove/excrete excessive glucose. The slowing down of gastric emptying means food stays in a person stomach and GI track longer, so decreasing appetite because the person doesn’t have an empty stomach stimulating it. It was never designed as an appetite suppressant and isn’t prescribed as such. Johnson’s very poor understanding of this drug is worrying. Worrying for his journalistic skills, because he didn’t check his facts before submitting this piece; and worrying because he was injecting a drug into himself that he didn’t know what it actually was. (It is also worrying he was able to buy a private prescription for Semaglutide against the guidelines for its use)
Johnson justified his weight gain because he suffers from “akrasia” and needed “invincible chemical” assistance. (I had to look up akrasia, it’s an Ancient Greek word meaning weak willed. That was a fascinating admission) What was interesting was his own description of his poor eating pattern. Craving food between meals, raiding his fridge at eleven-thirty at night for cheese, cooked meat and wine, and impatiently waiting for his children to have enough of their meals so he can wolf down what they leave. This is a portrait of a man with a very unhealthy relationship with food, which he needs help managing, rather than taking some “wonder drug” weight loss “cure”.
But, in the end, Semaglutide didn’t work for him. After several weeks taking it, and boasting of his weight loss, Johnson suddenly started to vomit or “talking to Ralph on the big white phone”. (I thought the euphemisms were “Ralphing” or “Talking to God on the great white telephone”. But what do I know, I don’t speak Latin) Instead of seeking medical advice, Johnson just stopped taking Semaglutide. He blamed its failure on the fact that he’s so extraordinary, travelling around the world and constantly changing time zones. Nausea, vomiting and weight loss are all side effects of Semaglutide, but Johnson would have known that if he’d sort medical advice, but he was prescribed Semaglutide outside its clinical guidelines.
And with this negative experience, Johnson is still recommending Semaglutide for everyone over weight. He blindly and uncritically endorses it, almost as if he’s being employed to do so, but he ignores the clinical guidelines for its usage.
The most interesting part of the piece was hidden away at the very end of it. Johnson partly upheld that vocal Tory belief that people are overweight because of their own fault and lack of willpower. But he also saw “nothing morally wrong” with prescribing medication to help overweight people lose weight. Shame he didn’t call on the Health Secretary to do more to help manage obesity in this country, and not just to prescribe drugs against their clinical guidelines.
Johnson is being paid £1 million a year to write this column, which works out to nearly £20,000 per column. This means someone is being short changed, and it isn’t Johnson. This column was so poorly written and overly written throughout, the language here reads more like one of his flowery speeches. It is very poorly researched and fact-checked, Johnson didn’t seem to know what the drug was licenced for, that he was taking. It is also contradictory, Semaglutide failed for Johnson and yet he is still endorsing it to be used widely by others. Many celebrities and ex-politicians turn their hand to newspaper writing, and many with mediocre results, but Johnson used to be a journalist before he became a politician. If this poorly written and argued piece is an example of his journalistic skills, how was he ever employed as a journalist? It wasn’t through merit.