The GLP-1 revolution has headed on up to South Park.

The long-running adult comedy show recently released South Park: The End of Obesity, a special on Paramount+ skewering the ongoing weight-loss drug craze.

The major plotline follows Eric Cartman’s pursuit of GLP-1 drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy as well as Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound to address his obesity, curb his appetite and allow him to indulge in what he considers the finer things in life as a thin person.

A subplot centers on several members of the town using the drugs off-label for cosmetic weight loss as well as the drugs’ impact on the broader economy.

The special also features pointed jokes and songs about the ongoing issues surrounding these drugs — including high costs, limited insurance coverage, adverse side effects, the unregulated nature of compound pharmacies and lingering supply shortages.

Medical marketers who watch the special should take note of the fact that South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker clearly did their homework. 

Not only are the drugs, their composition, efficacy and clinical indication addressed explicitly in the show, the complex nature of the American healthcare system is explored in a blisteringly satirical way.

Notably, a musical interlude early on in the show underscores how antiquated and complicated our nation’s healthcare system is. 

While hyperbolic in nature, the four main characters are ping-ponged between physicians requiring copious amounts of paperwork and insurers demanding additional clinical documentation to cover these expensive treatments.

Plenty of parody

South Park has never been afraid to lean into a topical subject associated with controversy, and GLP-1 drugs made plenty of sense for parody purposesIn the days since its premiere, The End of Obesity has been largely well-received, achieving an IMDB rating of 7.2 out of 10, based on more than 2,500 reviews.

Part of that is due to the equal distribution of blame and mockery for all stakeholders in this unprecedented weight loss phenomenon.

In classic South Park fashion, no one is spared in the special — not Big Pharma, health insurers, doctors or sugar companies.

Drugmakers are considered just as much to blame for the severe shortage issues and lack of clarity with patients seeking treatment for their obesity and diabetes as physicians leading patients through red tape set up by insurers. 

In the special, a payer employee is even seen relying on a fax machine and rotary telephone to communicate with the company’s medical director.

Celebrities are also parodied in the special for having an easier time accessing the drugs for aesthetic purposes compared to patients who need it.

Additionally, pop star Lizzo is the subject of a recurring joke about the high out-of-pocket cost of GLP-1s and their influence on the body positivity movement. 

The “Good as Hell” singer and her music are presented as a low-cost alternative to GLP-1 drugs throughout the episode. 

Despite being lampooned throughout the special, Lizzo took the ribbing in jest and said South Park did a good job at underscoring her commitment to body positivity and combatting fatphobia.

(For those interested, the phone number 1-833-MYLIZZO (or 1-833-695-4996) leads to an audio playback of the Lizzo commercial.)

The willpower myth

As with so many South Park episodes, the moral of the story is delivered at the end by Kyle Broflovski standing in the middle of the school’s cafeteria.

He offers a monologue that deconstructs the myth that people are overweight or obese due to a lack of willpower or some kind of character flaw.

His message echoes what the likes of Oprah Winfrey as well as Lilly and Novo have been saying for months: obesity is a disease that requires an effective, multifactorial approach to treat.

“I was wrong, I used to think fat people just needed more willpower but now I’ve seen what it’s like to have willpower not be enough,” he said. “We’ve got sugar companies, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies all just trying to find ways to make money off of our health. How can anyone have willpower when these forces are manipulating us every day? It’s impossible and I’ve learned that it isn’t fair to put the blame on anyone for their weight.”

While the special is unlikely to actually usher in the end of obesity as the title claims, it does provide viewers with a surprisingly nuanced examination of the weight loss frenzy. 

The downstream effects on all parties — especially patients and pharmaceutical companies — are worth analyzing for medical marketers seeking a pulse check on this phase of the phenomenon.