Oprah’s Weight-Loss Special Celebrates Ozempic, Other Obesity Meds

In Oprah Winfrey’s newest television special Shame, Blame, and the Weight Loss Revolution, the celebrated television host tells the crowd that when she got over the excitement of first appearing on the cover of TV Guide, she noticed a demeaning headline referencing her weight. “Bumpy, lumpy, and downright dumpy,” the magazine read. That sentiment would be echoed in the hateful and rude treatment, Winfrey said, that has followed her throughout her career. 

“I took on the shame that the world gave to me,” Winfrey, 70, said in her newest special. “For 25 years, making fun of my weight was national sport.”

The recent special comes months after an announcement from Winfrey that she was taking a semaglutide medication to manage her weight loss. The host didn’t specify which one she has a prescription for but spent most of the hour-long special dissecting different aspects of the continuing discussion around obesity management, focusing specifically on the rise of popular GLP-1 medications like Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Zepbound. 

The drugs, which were first released for diabetes patients in 2017, mimic the body’s natural GLP-1 hormone made in the intestines, which regulate blood sugar. Soon, semaglutides began being used for weight loss patients because of its side effects of decreasing appetite and keeping people feeling full longer. Many semaglutide medications like Ozempic and Rybelsus are still only approved for treating type-2 diabetes, but drug companies have rushed to create weight loss-specific versions to capitalize on the craze. In November 2023, the Food and Drug Administration approved Zepbound, already available as diabetes medication Mounjaro, as a treatment for weight loss. The FDA approved the drug under the Fast Track designation, an FDA term for drugs that gain approval because of major and immediate patient need. 

In one part of the special, the Ervie family, from Marceline, Missouri spoke to Oprah about their controversial decision to give their 13-year-old daughter bariatric surgery and then weight loss medication — based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ updated guidelines on treating childhood obesity. Winfrey also sat down with guests like Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. W. Scott Butsch and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. Amanda Velazquez, who spoke on the medical reasoning behind obesity treatment — specifically the medical understanding that obesity is a disease. 

But one of the biggest revelations in the special, however, is Winfrey’s reasoning for leaving her long-term position on the board of Weight Watchers, which she announced in March. She said she left her position so she could make the special and include Weight Watchers CEO Sima Sistani as a guest. “I recently made the decision to not continue serving on the board of Weight Watchers and I made that decision because I wanted no perceived conflict of interest for this special,” Winfrey said. “I also donated all of my shares in Weight Watchers to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture so that I could have a conversation with you, Sima.” 

During a quick interview with Sistani, the Weight Watchers CEO discussed why the brand recently began offering weight loss medication as part of its membership plan. The weight loss group’s program revolves around a points system that ranks food based on its calories and sugar content and then allows members a certain amount of points each day based on their goals. It also combines the points system with an accountability framework, where members attend meetings together, weigh in, and discuss their journeys with both a coach and each other: a method the company says is “scientifically proven” to change people’s relationship with food. Now, that method includes a telehealth option that can link WeightWatchers members with GLP-1 medication — which Sistani told Winfrey was an ongoing effort to keep WeightWatchers at the forefront of scientific developments. 

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Much of Winfrey’s special discussed people’s personal experiences with weight loss, including mental shifts in thinking of obesity as a disease rather than a moral failing. And while complications and side effects that can arise from taking semaglutide are (briefly) discussed, the majority of the special delivers a pro-medication perspective in the form of personal testimonials and advice from medical experts. The show provided a compelling and damning critique of the media organizations that demeaned Winfrey over her weight, but even Oprah herself can’t unravel the layers of societal expectations, critiques, and worries that encompass the ongoing debate about weight loss medications. So instead, Winfrey takes a different approach: simply being glad they exist at all. 

“In my lifetime I never dreamed we would be talking about medicines that would be providing hope to people, like me, who have struggled for years with being overweight or with obesity,” Winfrey said. “I come to this conversation with the hope that we can start releasing the stigma and the shame and the judgment — to stop shaming other people for being overweight or how they choose to lose or not lose weight — and more importantly to stop shaming ourselves.”

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