Oprah Winfrey: I Set An Unrealistic Standard for Dieting

Nicole Goodkind, CNN

*New York (CNN) — Oprah Winfrey said on Thursday evening that she has long played a role in promoting unhealthy and unrealistic diets.

“I want to acknowledge that I have been a steadfast participant in this diet culture,” she said during a live event broadcast on YouTube in partnership with WeightWatchers.

“Through my platforms, through the magazine, through the talk show for 25 years and online. I’ve been a major contributor to it. I cannot tell you how many weight loss shows and makeovers I have done and they have been a staple since I’ve been working in television,” she said.

Winfrey admitted that through her focus on weight, she “set a standard for people watching that I nor anybody else could uphold.”

Oprah Winfrey Guilty of Promoting Unhealthy and Unrealistic Diets (RB-Bauer-Griffin-GC Images-Getty Images-File via CNN Newsource)
Oprah Winfrey (RB-Bauer-Griffin-GC Images-Getty Images-File via CNN Newsource)

The three-hour live special, which also featured actresses Rebel Wilson, Amber Riley, WeightWatchers CEO Sima Sistani, and several doctors and other expert voices, highlighted a shift away from diet culture for WeightWatchers and toward body acceptance and medical intervention with drugs like Ozempic.

Sistani said during the special that the company acknowledges that weight loss isn’t strictly a matter of willpower and that diet culture and body shaming aren’t healthy.

Winfrey told People Magazine in December that she has added a “weight-loss medication to her regimen” but didn’t specify which drug.

Winfrey and WeightWatchers

Winfrey left the board of WeightWatchers, ending a nearly decade-long stint as a director of the beleaguered company, in February. At the time, a WeightWatchers regulatory statement said that her “decision was not the result of any disagreement” or “any matter relating to the company’s operations, policies or practices.”

Winfrey also said she would be giving away her sizable stake in the company: She said in a statement that she’s donating all of her stock to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Winfrey’s exit was a year earlier than expected, with the media mogul in 2019 signing an extension until 2025.

Oprah before and after weight loss - Getty
Oprah before and after weight loss – Getty

“Oprah is an inspiring presence and passionate advocate both for our members and for society at large, in elevating the conversation around weight health,” said Sistani, on a call with investors at the time. “While I and the rest of our directors will certainly miss her in our board meetings following the end of her current term, she remains a strong strategic voice and collaborator with WeightWatchers.”

WeightWatchers shares (WW) are down nearly 75% over the last 12 months, but soared more than 11% higher on Thursday, ahead of the live event hosted by Winfrey.

Oprah said during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel in March that she decided [to leave the WeightWatchers board] because she “wanted to be able to talk about whatever I want to talk about,” during the live special and because WeightWatchers “is now in the business of being a weight-health company that also administers drug medications for weight. I did not want to have the appearance of any conflict of interest.”

The GLP-1 revolution

WeightWatchers in December launched a new membership plan for members taking GLP-1 prescription drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy sometimes used for weight loss.

The “WeightWatchers GLP-1 Program” gives WeightWatchers members on semaglutide medications access to doctors who can prescribe these medications, as well as daily nutrition plans, insurance coordination, and other weight loss support programs.

The announcement came months after WeightWatchers made a $100 million-plus deal to buy Sequence, a telehealth business that offers virtual prescriptions to patients for these weight loss drugs where appropriate.

“I will say that I was on the board at the time there were discussions about whether or not WeightWatchers would move into weight loss medications,” Winfrey said on Thursday. “And as someone who struggled on WeightWatchers, I said ‘you all better join them or you will be overrun.’ And so I was in support of the company buying Sequence and going into that whole avenue.”

WeightWatchers currently offers both a GLP-1 program and clinic.

The GLP-1 Program provides those already taking GLP-1s behavioral and nutritional guidance for weight health management, while the WeightWatchers Clinic is a telehealth service that provides access to certified clinicians and weight loss medications.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs project that 15 million adults in the US will be on these medications by 2031, or about 13% of all adults in the country — not including diabetic patients.

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