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Oprah’s WeightWatchers exit sends stock tumbling

Oprah Winfrey was a public face of WeightWatchers
Oprah Winfrey was a public face of WeightWatchers - Copyright AFP/File VALERIE MACON
Oprah Winfrey was a public face of WeightWatchers - Copyright AFP/File VALERIE MACON

Oprah Winfrey’s announcement that she is leaving the board of WeightWatchers sent the company’s shares tumbling Thursday — the latest sign of trouble for the brand as it struggles to compete with new weight-loss drugs.

The departure of Winfrey, who has often addressed her own weight issues during her high profile television and business career, comes after she revealed last year that she was taking prescription anti-obesity medication.

A new generation of anti-diabetic drugs, which include Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, have been hailed as an effective treatment for obesity — driving up the valuations of manufacturers such as Denmark’s Novo Nordisk and America’s Eli Lilly.

Upon Winfrey’s departure, WeightWatchers stock plummeted on Wall Street, dropping 24 percent during the day before paring some losses to close 18 percent lower.

“Director Oprah Winfrey has decided not to stand for reelection at the company’s upcoming annual meeting of shareholders,” WeightWatchers said in a statement Thursday. 

The company confirmed that Winfrey will donate her WeightWatchers stock — the value of which was not disclosed — to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). 

“Ms. Winfrey is making the donation to support the NMAAHC’s goal to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans, and to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight-loss medications,” the statement said.

Winfrey presides over a vast business empire and has long promoted health projects, including in her role as the leading spokesperson for WeightWatchers — which she previously credited with her own dramatic weight-loss.

Created in the 1960s, WeightWatchers, which offers dietary programs on a subscription basis, is now facing competition from the new, albeit expensive, drugs.

In an attempt to stem a decline in membership, it has sought to offer support for people taking drugs like Ozempic that mimic the appetite-reducing hormone GLP-1.

WeightWatchers announced a loss of $112 million in 2023 on sales that fell 14.5 percent to $889 million, and said it expects further declines this year.

Winfrey, 70, who joined the board in 2015, said she will continue to collaborate with WeightWatchers.

“I plan to participate in a number of public forums and events where I will be a vocal advocate in advancing this conversation,” Winfrey said, according to the company statement.

Winfrey’s colossal influence ranges from politics — she notably endorsed Barack Obama as president — to her book club, which has created many instant bestsellers in a phenomenon known as the “Oprah Effect.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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