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Ahead of Oscars, new ad appears to slam celebrities for using weight loss, diabetes drugs

The ad was released ahead of the Oscars by drug manufacturer Eli Lilly.

March 8, 2024, 1:47 PM

A pharmaceutical company that makes popular drugs for weight loss and diabetes, including Mounjaro, appears to call out celebrities for using the medications for cosmetic weight loss in a new ad.

The new television ad, released Thursday by Eli Lilly, which manufactures Zepbound -- a weight loss drug -- as well as Mounjaro, shows scenes of red carpets, photographers, hair and makeup, and sequin gowns.

"Some people have been using medicine never meant for them for the smaller dress or tux, for a big night, for vanity," a narrator states in the ad. "But that's not the point."

"People whose health is affected by obesity are the reason we work on these medications," the narrator continues. "It matters who gets them."

PHOTO: Eli Lilly and Company release an ad focused on its diabetes and weight loss drugs.
Eli Lilly and Company release an ad focused on its diabetes and weight loss drugs.
Eli Lilly and Company/YouTube

The ad -- which echoes comments from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, who announced in January that the company may not have enough supply of Zepbound this year to meet demand -- was released just days before Hollywood's biggest stars will walk the red carpet Sunday at the 96th Academy Awards.

"It is really unusual for a company to criticize and shame its own customers and encourage them not to use the product," John Cawley, professor of public policy and economics at Cornell University, told ABC News. "This may be a way of Eli Lilly positioning itself as not trying to sell the drugs to as many people as possible, but really trying to make sure that they're reserved for people with the greatest medical need."

Over the past year, use of drugs that can lead to weight loss including Mounjaro, as well as others like Ozempic, Zepbound and Wegovy, have skyrocketed in popularity.

Both Ozempic and Mounjaro are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat Type 2 diabetes, but some doctors prescribe the medication "off-label" for weight loss, as is permissible by the FDA.

Wegovy, a medication that contains the same main ingredient, semaglutide, as Ozempic, is FDA-approved for weight loss.

In November, the FDA approved Zepbound as a weight loss management treatment for people with obesity, or those who are overweight with at least one related underlying condition, such as high blood pressure.

As a diabetes drug, it is sold under the brand name Mounjaro, as the two medications contain the same active ingredient, tirzepatide.

Clinical studies show users of the medications can lose between 5% and 20% of their body weight on the medications over time.

Some of the backlash against drugs like Ozempic being used for weight loss stems from the idea that people using them for weight loss are taking them away from people with diabetes, for whom the drugs were designed. In the United States, just over 38 million people have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the cost of the drugs -- over $1,000 per month without health insurance in most cases -- makes them inaccessible to most people.

PHOTO: Mounjaro injection pen on display in Carlsbad, Calif., Nov. 30, 2022.
Mounjaro injection pen on display in Carlsbad, Calif., Nov. 30, 2022.
Sandy Huffaker/The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

In a statement to ABC News this week, a spokesperson from Lilly said that "due to continued dynamic patient demand across doses," the company "anticipates intermittent backorders on certain doses of Mounjaro."

"We recognize this situation may cause a disruption in people's treatment regimens and we are moving with urgency to address it. We are in ongoing contact with the FDA to provide timely updates," the spokesperson said, referring people to the FDA's website for drug shortage updates.

"All doses of Zepbound are available for pharmacies across the U.S. to order from their wholesaler," they said.

"We continue to invest and add manufacturing and supply capacity around the world," the spokesperson added. "The addition of our manufacturing facility in North Carolina, coupled with additional actions and expansions at other sites, will allow us to substantially expand manufacturing over the coming years."

They also noted that "Lilly has a commercial savings card program in place that will help people who may benefit from Zepbound better access it."

James Zervios, chief operating officer of the Obesity Action Coalition, a nonprofit organization, told ABC News that whether used for weight loss or diabetes, medications like Mounjaro are intended for people with a disease.

Obesity is a medical condition that affects nearly 42% of people in the U.S., according to the CDC. Health risks associated with obesity include everything from stroke and heart attack to hypertension, breathing difficulties, sleep apnea and an increased risk of death.

"These are medications that need to be prescribed in a medical setting and used under the guidance of a healthcare provider," Zervios said. "These are not medications that are out there for for vanity use. These are really meant for people that are that are dealing with this disease."