Oprah Winfrey is leaving the board of WeightWatchers a setback.jpgw1440

Oprah Winfrey is leaving the board of WeightWatchers, a setback as weight-loss drugs are on the rise

Oprah Winfrey is leaving the WeightWatchers board after eight years in the role, dealing a new blow to the company as it struggles with financial losses and competes with weight-loss drugs.

Winfrey won't stand for it re-election at the company's shareholder meeting in May, the company said in a statement Wednesday. Winfrey said she would continue to work with the company “to stimulate discussion about recognizing obesity as a chronic disease, advocate for reducing stigma, and advocate for health equity.”

Share prices of the company, which was renamed WW International in 2018, fell more than 27 percent in after-hours trading following the announcement.

Oprah's stake in WeightWatchers is a great deal for shareholders

Weight loss companies face stiff competition from injectable drugs such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, which have skyrocketed in popularity worldwide in recent years.

WeightWatchers suffered a loss of more than $88 million in 2023, according to a financial report released by the company this week. The loss was more than double the previous year's figure (US$35.8 million).

Meanwhile, manufacturers of weight-loss drugs say they are trying to meet demand and are spending heavily to increase their production capacity.

The drugs have proven effective in treating obesity, diabetes and even heart problems (although some patients also reported side effects such as nausea, diarrhea and heart palpitations). Social media and influencer-led promotions have also sparked interest in the drugs, although new marketing strategies of pitching them to plus-size influencers have sparked backlash.

Experts have also expressed concern about the drugs, saying that while they can be helpful for people with obesity and chronic illnesses, they are challenging for people with eating disorders who are not overweight and people with body dysmorphia.

In December, Winfrey told People magazine that she also uses weight loss medication prescribed by her doctor as a “maintenance measure,” but did not name the medication.

“The fact that there is a doctor-approved prescription to control my weight and stay healthier feels like a relief, like a redemption, like a gift in my lifetime and not something I hide behind and still “It can make fun of me,” she said. “I’m completely done with being shamed by other people and especially myself.”

In 2023, WeightWatchers announced its acquisition of healthcare company Sequence, noting that the program would provide subscribers with advice and access to prescription weight loss medications. The company also created the WeightWatchers Clinic, which gives members access to doctors who can prescribe weight loss medications.

“Given advances in chronic weight management medications, moving into clinical interventions for those who are medically qualified is a natural next step for WeightWatchers,” CEO Sima Sistani said in the company statement at the time. “Our goal is to provide sustainable, science-based solutions for all weight loss journeys, whether medications are part of an individual’s journey or not.”

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Winfrey joined the board in 2015 and paid $43 million for a 10 percent stake, The Washington Post reported, noting that the company was struggling to retain subscribers at the time as people focused on fitness, dieting -Apps and wearables.

When Winfrey joined WeightWatchers, she said she lost 40 pounds through the program. The star has long been vocal about issues with her weight and appearance, and has spoken publicly about yo-yo dieting and fad diets.

Her website states that she has “fallen victim to just about every diet scam women know.” In 2007, Winfrey was diagnosed with hypothyroidism – a condition in which the body produces too little thyroid hormone and results in a variety of symptoms, including weight gain.

Winfrey said Wednesday that she would donate her shares in the company to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

WeightWatchers' board said it supported Winfrey's decision and thanked her for her time with the company.