The GLP-1 drug phenomenon has officially received the Oprah Winfrey treatment.

ABC aired An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution on Monday night. During it, the famed talk show host delved deep into all aspects of the rise of GLP-1 drugs.

Over the course of an hour, Winfrey took a nuanced look at everything from adult patients who have utilized drugs like Ozempic or Mounjaro to lose weight to how healthcare professionals are responding to record-breaking patient demand for these medications to their well-documented side effects.

In addition to highlighting those details, Winfrey tackled the stigmatization of obese people and the misconceptions around weight gain as well as the cost and access issues surrounding GLP-1s.

Deconstructing fat-shaming

As one of the most influential celebrities of the past 40 years, Winfrey has been no stranger to media coverage of her weight. She took time to call out a culture that considers heavier people to be lesser beings. By referencing the unrelenting — and at times cruel — ways her weight has been covered, Winfrey drew a throughline to the modern discourse around obesity

In conversations with individuals who have used GLP-1s to lose weight, Winfrey challenged the long-held belief that people who weighed more did so because of a lack of willpower or some other character flaw. She likened the suggestion that obesity is a choice to previous insinuations that alcoholism isn’t a disease.

“When I tell you, how many times I have blamed myself because you think, ‘I’m smart enough to figure this out,’ and then to hear, all along, that it’s you fighting your brain,” she said. 

None of that is to say that GLP-1 drugs alone can remedy weight-related concerns. In addition to using these medications, Winfrey said she maintained her weight loss by hiking, running, weight-resistance training and eating better.

Dissecting weight loss misinformation

The special challenged not only misconceptions around causes and supposed cures for obesity, but also potential side effects. 

Winfrey enlisted three HCPs to inform viewers about the drugs. The special noted that two of them are consultants for companies that manufacture GLP-1s.

They said that while users on social media have identified side effects — severe gastroparesis, hair loss and bowel obstruction, among others — this class of drugs has a strong efficacy and safety profile. They also noted that, since we are in the early days of widespread GLP-1 usage, there needs to be more education about what the drugs can and can’t do.

Executives from rival GLP-1 manufacturers Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly were on hand to address the supply shortages and access issues. They pinned most of the blame on insurers for keeping these medications out of the grasp of patients who could use them to treat their diabetes or obesity issues. 

WeightWatchers weighs in

Midway through the special, Winfrey acknowledged the elephant in the room: WeightWatchers and its uncertain future. She joined the company’s board of directors in 2015 and acknowledged that, while she lost weight using its products and points-based system, she inevitably gained it back.

Weight Watchers launched a GLP-1 support program as part of its monthly membership at the end of 2023. This came months after it bought Sequence, a remote weight loss prescribing company, for $132 million. 

Winfrey sold off her shares in Weight Watchers last month after she announced that she used GLP-1 drugs. She attributed the decision to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.

The news rocked the company, with shares tumbling more than 20% since Winfrey’s announcement. CEO Sima Sistani issued an internal memo reassuring employees that the company is financially sound.

HCPs herald special

The response to the special was largely positive, especially among HCPs. CBS News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook complimented Winfrey for elevating the discourse around the realities of these drugs and living with obesity.

“I love that there’s a national discussion,” he said. 

Similarly, Michael Albert, MD, the chief medical officer at Accomplish Health, commended the presence of physicians on the program and their dedication to evidence-based research.

For a March 2024 article on Dr. Jennifer Ashton debuting a newsletter covering menopause and weight management, click here.