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Oprah Says She is Stepping Down from the Board of WeightWatchers

The decision comes months after going public with the news she’s taking medication for weight loss

spinner image oprah winfrey at the color purple premiere  in december twenty twenty three wearing a purple dress
Oprah Winfrey at the premiere of "The Color Purple" held at The Academy Museum on Dec. 6, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey has announced that she is stepping down from the board of WeightWatchers in May, a role she has held since 2015.

Winfrey said in statement that she looks “forward to continuing to advise and collaborate with WeightWatchers and CEO Sima Sistani in elevating the conversation around recognizing obesity as a chronic condition, working to reduce stigma, and advocating for health equity.”

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The news comes a month after she made a bombshell disclosure to People magazine that she is taking weight loss medication. The reaction on social media at the time was swift — and vitriolic. “Oh…Oh… Oh PRA Zempic! What happened to Weight Watchers? Too much work?” wrote one poster. “I hope People magazine has the lowest sale ever of this cover,” posted another.

VIDEO: 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Oprah Winfrey

The media legend, who turned 70 in January and has a lifetime of incredible achievements, seems happy to be living her truth, critics be damned.

“I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself,” Winfrey told People. “The fact that there’s a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for.”

Psychotherapist Judith Rabinor praised Winfrey for her forthrightness. “Milestone birthdays often lead people to reflect, take stock, and make new choices and changes in the way they think and act,” she explains. “As early as 50, people start realizing time is not forever, which can actually be quite liberating for many. By their 60s and 70s, it’s common for people to develop a ‘what the hell’ attitude to issues that may have weighed them down in the past.”

This may be the case for Winfrey, who after decades of her weight struggles being unmercifully chronicled in the media, says she finally decided to try medication after hosting a panel discussion about the root causes of obesity.

“I had the biggest aha along with many people in that audience,” she shared with People. “I realized I’d been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control.” Once she accepted the science around weight-loss drugs, Winfrey says, she was able to “release the shame” and use the medication as a “maintenance tool” along with diet and exercise.

Removing the stigma

“She obviously knew she was taking a risk when she admitted this and that there would be criticism, but she did it anyway,” said Rabinor, who once appeared as a guest on Oprah’s show to discuss body dysmorphic disorder. “She doesn’t care. She has always been very honest about her weight struggles and I think it’s fabulous she is being so open.”

Rabinor hoped Winfrey’s transparency will help remove some of stigma associated with both obesity and the decision to take weight-loss drugs — and give women the confidence to silence their inner and outer critics. “If people have struggled with being overweight their whole life and now there’s suddenly a medication that can help them get healthier, why should they be made to feel guilty?”

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A ‘champion’ for the pressures facing women

This isn’t the first time the mega-mogul has courted controversy. In 1988, after losing nearly 70 pounds by not eating a single morsel of solid food for four months on the Optifast liquid diet, Winfrey devised a brilliant, albeit shocking, plan for sharing the news with her audience.

“I had lost a lot of weight and I knew people would want to know how,” Winfrey explained at the time. And so, after arranging for Moo & Oink, a local Chicago barbecue joint, to deliver 67 pounds of animal fat to The Oprah Winfrey Show, she piled that mountain of fat onto a Radio Flyer wagon and trotted it out on stage like a special guest.

“She got a lot of flak for that episode,” said Rabinor. “But it was still very brave. She’s been a champion of bringing attention to the unrealistic pressures women face to be thin for a very long time.”

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The new class of drugs

Though Winfrey did not name the drug she is taking, New York City endocrinologist and weight-loss specialist Rocio Salas-Whalen, M.D., said she is likely referring to incretins, the now famous class of drugs more commonly known by brand names such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro.

“Ozempic [Novo Nordisk] and Mounjaro [Eli Lilly] are both approved for type 2 diabetes, but they are frequently prescribed off-label for weight loss,” she said, noting that Mounjaro has become more popular in recent years because it tends to be more effective and have fewer side effects.

Wegovy [Novo Nordisk], which until recently was the only class of incretins approved for weight loss, now has a competitor in Eli Lilly’s newest FDA-approved drug for obesity, Zepbound, which uses the same active ingredient (tirzepatide) found in Mounjaro.

“The drugs are incredibly effective,” said Salas-Whalen. “They have completely changed the game in terms of how we can treat obesity.”    

The big drawback: cost

The number of people commenting “Eat the rich” on People’s post underlines one of the thorniest issues with incretin treatment: While clearly beneficial to more than half the population, these medications — which run around $1,000 for a month’s supply — are prohibitively expensive without a prescription for all but the very rich.

While Medicare Part D covers Ozempic for diabetes, it does not cover the drug (or other weight loss drugs) to treat obesity. And, unfortunately, insurance companies keep raising the bar, making it more and more difficult for people to get the medications covered, according to Salas-Whalen. “Now, to meet the criteria for incretins, you need to have a BMI above 27.” Put in perspective, a 5-foot-7-inch woman would need to weigh at least 172 pounds to qualify.

In addition to the lack of democratic access, long-standing prejudice against people who are overweight seems to be fueling the mean-spirited dialogue online. “People who have never struggled with their weight will always talk about willpower,” said Rabinor. “But obesity is more complicated than that for most people.”

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