WeightWatchers is getting into the booming prescription weight loss drug business.
WeightWatchers recently announced the acquisition of a company called Sequence, a telehealth platform of healthcare providers who can prescribe the new weight loss drugs semaglutide and tirzepatide, under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy and Monjuaro.
Specialists in obesity medicine say it is a chronic medical condition — a neurometabolic disease — and the new drugs are breakthrough treatments. So WeightWatchers aims to incorporate them into its program, which has focused primarily on behavior modification for weight loss until now.
Chief Scientific Officer for WeightWatchers Dr. Gary Foster tells PEOPLE the addition of weight loss medications to the program should be seen as an evolution but “not a left turn. We’re always surveying the science. How can we, in this case, especially for appropriate individuals, make clinical weight management and the use of anti-obesity medications a part of the WW ecosystem?”
Foster says they are still working out exactly how WeightWatchers members will be offered the telehealth service, but emphasizes that a screening process would determine if those interested could benefit from the drug.
“They’re certainly going to make sure that we’re prescribing the medications for people appropriate from a BMI and associated medical conditions point of view. There’s also questions about anorexia and bulimia upfront,” he says.
However eating disorders expert Oona Hanson worries that people with disordered eating may still end up using the weight loss medications. “WeightWatchers historically has not screened people for eating disorders,” she says. “I think the bigger picture of this issue is this relentless pressure to shrink your body at any cost, whether that cost is financial or side effects or unknown risks.”
But Foster says that people would get an in-depth clinical assessment before any prescriptions are written.
“Prescribing medications appropriately is really important to us, and they have to use the FDA criteria,” he says. The FDA criteria is a BMI of 30 without medical conditions related to obesity, or a BMI of 27 with associated conditions like high blood pressure.
BMI is calculated based on a person’s height and weight, and the number is used throughout the healthcare system, including the World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health, to sort people into four categories: underweight, healthy, overweight or obese. It’s a formula: a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of their height (in meters).
Talk to your doctor before trying any of these plans.