Oprah leaves WeightWatchers board of directors

Oprah Winfrey has announced she is stepping down from the WeightWatchers board of directors, months after going public with plans to take a weight-loss drug.

Ms. Winfrey has been WeightWatchers’ most prominent spokesperson since joining its board in 2015, helping it weather competition from other weight-loss companies while opening a broader conversation about obesity and diet.

Her support of WeightWatchers — she said she lost 40 pounds using the company’s points system — convinced many others to sign up, analysts say.

The announcement sent shares of WeightWatchers tumbling, with shares falling 25 percent in early trading Thursday.

The company stated in a special file On Wednesday, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Winfrey informed the president that she would not seek re-election in May, ending a nearly nine-year term on the board.

“His decision was not the result of any disagreement with the Company on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices,” WeightWatchers said in the filing.

Ms. Winfrey, who spent decades as a dominant figure in conversations about weight and dieting in the country, revealed in December that she was taking a weight-loss drug.

“The fact that there is a medically approved prescription to manage my weight and stay healthier, over the course of my life, feels like a relief, a redemption, a gift, not something to hide behind and be at a loss for. ridiculed again,” she said. told People magazine.

In a statement of the company on Thursday, Ms. Winfrey said she plans to continue advising WeightWatchers Chief Executive Sima Sistani on “elevating the debate about recognizing obesity as a chronic disease.”

A representative for Ms. Winfrey had no further comment.

The company said in the statement that Ms. Winfrey would donate the value of her WeightWatchers holdings to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, in part to “eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest surrounding taking weight-loss medications.

Kelsey Merkel, a spokeswoman for WeightWatchers, said Ms. Winfrey wanted to “genuinely advocate” for the weight-loss measures she believed to be most effective, without anyone questioning her profit motive. She owned about 1.13 million shares worth $6.34 million, according to a Jan. 1 Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Ms. Winfrey did not say what weight-loss medication she was taking. In 2021, researchers found that semaglutide, a drug used to treat diabetes, produced dramatic weight loss results in obese patients. Since then, demand has exploded for new drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound, which can help people lose weight, in part by suppressing appetite.

The emergence of such drugs has posed a commercial challenge to diet programs like WeightWatchers. But the company is moving toward a business model based on its ability to obtain a limited supply of the coveted weight-loss drugs.

Last year, WeightWatchers acquired Sequence, a subscription-based telehealth platform that offers, among other benefits, access to healthcare providers who can prescribe weight-loss medications, including Ozempic, for $106 million. (Users pay $99 per month, not including prescription fees.) The company also dropped some of its offerings for in-person meetings, a well-known tool in its weight-loss plans, prompting some customers to organize their own support groups.

After an initial increase following the acquisition of Sequence, WeightWatchers shares have lost more than half of their value this year.

The New York-based company’s shares have been hurt by “heightened concerns” about its growth prospects and liquidity, said Stephanie Davis, an analyst at Barclays.

“It’s still early in its transformation process from an in-person diet model to a digital health company,” Ms. Davis said in an interview, adding that “transitions come with a lot of risk.”