Oprah will leave the Weight Watchers board and donate the proceeds from her stake in the company ‘to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications’

Oprah Winfrey is standing down from the board of WW International, also known as WeightWatchers, and the reason why has to do with her use of weight loss medication—probably. Winfrey joined the company in 2015 after buying a $43 million stake in the weight loss and fitness company, joining the board, and agreeing to a collaboration in which she let WW use her name and image in its marketing and advertising.

According to WeightWatchers, Winfrey won’t stand for reelection at the May 2024 shareholder meeting and she will donate all her WeightWatchers stock to the National Museum of African American History and Culture during the company’s open trading window next month. Furthermore, Winfrey will also donate the proceeds from any future exercise of her WW stock options, the company said. Winfrey is donating her stake to support the museum’s goals and to “eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications,” said the company in a press release.

Without commenting specifically on any medication she’s using, Winfrey said in December 2023: “I now use it… as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing.”  

“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. I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself.”

Her public comments might not have gone over well at WWInternational. 

WW stock year-to-date is down 56%, and after the announcement about Winfrey today, share prices dropped 27% in after-hours trading, which would take roughly $80 million off the market capitalization. The company has attempted to get in on the weight loss prescription trend, purchasing telehealth platform Sequence last year for $132 million.

Winfrey, who has dealt with dieting and weight struggles publicly for the past three decades, sparked rumors in early December about whether she was using GLP-1 agonist medications when she posted a photo on Instagram looking joyful and svelte in a stunning violet gown. Some 10 days later, People published an exclusive article in which Winfrey proclaimed that she was using weight-loss medications, in addition to hiking and following WeightWatchers’ point-based eating plan.

Two months prior, in September 2023, she had said during a panel discussion she moderated with obesity specialists that she considered the drugs to be a shortcut. She described embracing exercise after two knee surgeries left her unable to lift her leg.

“Even when I first started hearing about the weight loss drugs, at the same time I was going through knee surgery, and I felt, ‘I’ve got to do this on my own.’ Because if I take the drug, that’s the easy way out.”

Based on the company’s disclosures about Winfrey’s agreement, there may have been issues about potential conflicts that emerged after she confessed to using weight-loss medications this year.

WW did not respond to a request for comment.

The initial 2015 agreement Winfrey struck with the company had a duration of five years, with terms for subsequent renewals. After the initial term was extended to April 2023, a second term began and was to continue through the company’s 2025 annual meeting or May 31, 2025, whichever came earlier. According to the company’s disclosures, during the second term of the agreement Winfrey wasn’t to give anyone but WeightWatchers the right to use her name, likeness and endorsement for or in connection with any other weight loss or weight management programs. She was also not to engage in any other “weight loss or weight management business, program, products or services during the Strategic Term and for one year thereafter.”

In 2019, WeightWatchers granted Winfrey a fully vested option to purchase 3 million shares of WeightWatchers stock, which shareholders approved on May 6, 2020.

After saying she used weight-loss meds, Winfrey said the drugs helped maintain her weight loss and that she had long dealt with shame about her size and public mockery of her struggles.

Winfrey said in the company statement that she will continue to serve as an adviser and collaborator with WW. Both Winfrey and WW will host an event on weight health in May. According to the company, the event will highlight discourse on “un-shaming” people’s relationships with weight.

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