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Oprah Winfrey is leaving the WeightWatchers board. Here's what to know — and what she's said about using weight loss drugs.

Oprah Winfrey seated with hands folded, wearing a pale blue suit and turtleneck.
Oprah Winfrey is stepping down from the WeightWatchers board but plans to continue advising the brand. (Getty Images)
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Oprah Winfrey will step down from the WeightWatchers board of directors this May, CBS News reports. According to a statement released on Wednesday, Winfrey, who has held an executive position with WeightWatchers since 2015, will also donate her stock in the company to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to support the institution's goal to "promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans and to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications."

In the announcement, the talk show host said that will continue to "advise and collaborate" with WeightWatchers CEO Sima Sistani in "elevating the conversation around recognizing obesity as a chronic condition, working to reduce stigma and advocating for health equity."

“Weight health is a critically important topic and one that needs to be addressed at a broader scale," Winfrey added. "I plan to participate in a number of public forums and events where I will be a vocal advocate in advancing this conversation."

The announcement comes less than three months after Winfrey revealed that she is now taking a weight loss medication to help maintain progress she's made in her decades-long journey, as first reported by People. WeightWatchers has recently launched its own GLP-1 Program to support clients who are using weight loss drugs.

Read on to learn more about Winfrey's experience with weight loss medications, and why experts think she can help reduce the stigma surrounding people using these drugs to lose weight.

What has Oprah said about using weight loss medications?

In December the 70-year-old media mogul shared that she's been using a prescribed medication "as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing" since just before Thanksgiving. And after five decades of struggling with her weight, experiencing body shaming by the media and acting as a spokesperson for WeightWatchers behavioral weight loss program, Winfrey offered a unique perspective on her relationship with food and her body.

"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," she said. "Obesity is a disease. It’s not about willpower — it's about the brain."

It's a position that she began to take after hosting a conversation called the "State of Weight" in September as a part of Oprah Daily's The Life You Want series. There, she and a panel of medical professionals addressed not only the function of weight loss medications but also the shame and stigma surrounding the conversation about obesity and weight loss — one that Winfrey has experienced firsthand.

"It was public sport to make fun of me for 25 years," she said in her People cover story. "I have been blamed and shamed, and I blamed and shamed myself."

As conversations about weight loss medications like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro spread across the industry, Winfrey still had her reservations about using such a medication. Although she said that she had been "recommending it to people long before I was on it myself," Winfrey chose to continue relying solely on the lifestyle changes she had already made.

"I eat my last meal at 4 o’clock, drink a gallon of water a day and use the WeightWatchers principles of counting points. I had an awareness of [weight loss] medications but felt I had to prove I had the willpower to do it," she said.

The discussion she hosted on the topic changed that. "I had the biggest aha along with many people in that audience," she said. "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."

Winfrey said that, for her, the medication "quiets the food noise." But she still engages in healthy lifestyle routines. "I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me," she said.

As she embarks on this latest chapter of her body journey, she's set on blocking out noise from critics as well. "I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself," she said.

Why is there shame surrounding weight loss drugs?

"People think of obesity as more of a lifestyle or behavioral issue rather than a medical issue," Dr. Melanie Jay, director of the NYU Langone's Comprehensive Program on Obesity, told Yahoo Life last fall. "People think [those with obesity] eat too much and don't exercise enough. And therefore, you know, why do they need a medication if they just do that? This segment was really trying to educate the public on why obesity is a disease."

Jay — who participated in the "State of Weight" conversation with Winfrey alongside fellow obesity specialist Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, psychologist Rachel Goldman and WeightWatchers CEO Sistani — said that the false belief about the role that personal behaviors play in a person's risk of diabetes has implications on the policy level as well. "Medicare and Medicaid don't cover these drugs because somehow obesity is not as much of an important disease," she says. "Some people can lose weight just by really aggressive lifestyle changes through programs like WeightWatchers, but a lot of people can't do that. They'll lose a lot of weight and then they gain it back. And it's not their fault."

Winfrey addressed the idea that taking medication for weight loss can be seen as "the easy way out." In reality, Jay says it acts as additional support.

That's how The Real Housewives of Orange County cast member Emily Simpson used Ozempic, telling ABC News last year that she had also gotten liposuction on her arms and a breast lift following body changes. Most notably, she shifted her eating habits and developed a new workout routine. People on the internet still shamed her for utilizing the drug.

"I hear patients say, 'No, no, no, I don't want to try meds. I want to try to do it on my own,'" said Jay. "Patients will say that as if there's a right way to do it. But really there are different treatment options. Some treatment options work better for others, and people should have the choice of which treatment options they want to use."

The shame regarding bodies and weight in general makes the subject more difficult to tackle. "Obesity, because it's something you see, also becomes part of a person's identity in a different way than other diseases," said Jay.

Celebrities who have been rumored to take Ozempic or have admitted taking the drug without the qualifications of obesity could also have an impact on the stigma, according to Jay. "That could sometimes perpetuate it as being a vanity drug and not a real medical drug."

How can Oprah have an impact on removing shame?

Winfrey is a public figure who also been outspoken about the resources she's utilized to lose weight — most notably, her longstanding partnership with WeightWatchers — and has proved to have immense influence. A single tweet in 2016 urging followers to join her in her journey with the weight management program led to a 20% increase of WeightWatchers stock. Conversely, CNBC reports that shares are down by up to 25% since news broke of her upcoming exit from the board.

In recent months, Winfrey has shed light on the possibility that WeightWatchers alone might not be the solution for her own weight management.

"You all have watched me diet and diet and diet and diet. It’s a recurring thing because my body always seems to want to go back to a certain weight," she said, urging that additional medical treatments for obesity should be available for people to explore. "It should be yours to own and not be shamed about it."

Jay believes that Winfrey's reach makes an impact.

"We've been talking about obesity as a disease for many years now, but it has not really gone mainstream. And it's starting to because now you have a medicine that obviously targets some pathways that reverse it or provide weight loss in a lot of people," said Jay. "Oprah has the credibility, the platform and the ability to get the message out that obesity is something that is not an individual's fault and that it's something that can be treated if people want it to be treated."

This article was originally published in September 2023 and has been updated.