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Oprah leaves WeightWatchers, sending stocks tumbling

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NEW YORK –

Oprah Winfrey is leaving the WeightWatchers board, ending a nearly decade-long tenure as director of the beleaguered company that faced sudden competition from Ozempic.

Winfrey informed the company of her decision earlier this week, telling them she would not run for re-election at the annual shareholder meeting in May. The reason was not revealed, but a regulatory statement from WeightWatchers said its “decision was not the result of any disagreement” or “any matter relating to the company’s operations, policies or practices.”

“Oprah is an inspiring presence and a passionate advocate for both our members and society at large, elevating the health conversation around weight,” said Sima Sistani, CEO of WeightWatchers, during a call with investors this week. “While I and the rest of our directors will certainly miss her at our board meetings after her current term ends, she remains a strong strategic voice and contributor to WeightWatchers.”

Winfrey will also sell her significant stake in the company: She said in a statement that she would donate all of her shares to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Shares of WeightWatchers (WW) plunged as much as 25 percent in premarket trading Thursday and are down nearly 70 percent. Winfrey’s departure comes a year earlier than expected, with the media mogul signing an extension in 2019 until 2025.

“I look forward to continuing to advise and collaborate with WeightWatchers and CEO Sima Sistani to elevate the conversation about recognizing obesity as a chronic disease, work to reduce stigma, and advocate for health equity “Winfrey said in a statement.

Winfrey joined the board in 2015 and purchased a 10 percent stake, immediately giving prominence to the struggling company as more people turned to easier diets rather than count points.

WeightWatchers has recently faced increased competition from GLP-1 prescription drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, which are sometimes used for weight loss. In response, it launched a new membership plan for people taking these drugs, which gives members access to doctors who can prescribe these drugs, as well as daily nutrition plans, insurance coordination and to other weight loss support programs.

Last year, WeightWatchers also struck a deal worth more than $100 million to buy Sequence, a telehealth company that offers virtual prescriptions to patients for these weight-loss drugs when appropriate.

Winfrey told People Magazine in December that she had added a “weight loss medication to her diet,” but did not specify which one.

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