Shame, Blame, and Oprah’s Special

 In the ongoing battle against obesity, a new front has emerged in the form of GLP-1 weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound. These medications, heralded for their potential to revolutionize weight management, have garnered immense popularity, with projections suggesting that by 2030, roughly 10% of the U.S. population will be relying on them, driving the category’s sales to surpass a staggering $100 billion.

The recent endorsement from Oprah Winfrey during an ABC special titled “Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution” has provided another significant cultural boost to these drugs. In the groundbreaking special aired on March 18, Oprah shared her personal journey with one of these weight-loss medications, reframing obesity as a disease rather than a personal choice. “For 25 years, making fun of my weight was national sport,” Oprah said in the special’s introduction. She recalled a TV Guide cover that referred to her as “lumpy, bumpy, and downright dumpy…”

She candidly revealed her previous misconception that individuals who never struggled with weight were simply exerting superior willpower — a belief shattered upon experiencing the transformative effects of medication.

Oprah said:

All these years, I thought all of the people who never had to diet were just using their willpower, and they were for some reason stronger than me…

She also said:

In an effort to combat all the shame, I starved myself for nearly five months and then wheeled out that wagon of fat that the internet will never let me forget… And after losing 67 pounds on a liquid diet, the next day, y’all, the very next day I started to gain it back.

Central to Oprah’s narrative was the spotlight on GLP-1 agonists, a class of drugs mimicking a hormone that suppresses appetite and regulates blood sugar levels. These medications, including Ozempic, Mounjaro, Wegovy, and Zepbound, have demonstrated remarkable efficacy, aiding some patients in shedding approximately 20% of their body weight. Despite being initially approved to treat Type 2 diabetes, certain drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro have found off-label use for weight loss, while others like Wegovy and Zepbound are explicitly sanctioned as anti-obesity medications.

Winfrey’s special served as a platform to showcase the success stories of those who achieved significant weight loss with GLP-1 drugs, while also featuring insights from executives and medical experts associated with the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these medications. Notably, Oprah’s commitment to transparency led her to sever ties with WeightWatchers’ board, redirecting her stock to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest, given the company’s endorsement of anti-obesity medications.

However, amidst the burgeoning popularity of drugs like Wegovy and Zepbound, skepticism persists, particularly regarding their widespread adoption among those seeking to shed a few pounds without weight-related health concerns. A Pew poll conducted in February revealed that 62% of respondents view these medications as unsuitable for people without weight-related health issues, echoing concerns voiced by some physicians who question the necessity of medical intervention for weight loss in certain cases.

As it’s been established, the use of GLP-1 drugs can cause side effects ranging from gastrointestinal discomfort to more severe complications like pancreatitis and obstructions in the digestive system. Heightened scrutiny also surrounds potential long-term risks, including an elevated susceptibility to thyroid cancer.

In defense of these medications, Dr. Amanda Velazquez, a weight-loss specialist and consultant for pharmaceutical companies, downplayed the significance of side effects, categorizing them as “mild to moderate” based on research findings. Nonetheless, empirical evidence suggests that adverse reactions may prompt a significant proportion of patients to discontinue medication, leading to weight regain — a reality acknowledged by Velazquez during the special.

At the special’s end, Oprah emphasized that weight-loss drugs may not be for everyone and that some people may choose not to lose weight or to do so with diet and exercise. But “for the people who think that this could be the relief and support and freedom […] that you’ve been looking for your whole life,” she said, “bless you.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Ozempic Gets the Oprah Treatment in a New TV Special,” TIME, 3/18, 24
Source: “The Biggest Takeaways From Oprah’s Ozempic Special,” The Cut, 3/19/24
Image by Love Quotes on Flickr

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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