I have to say that I’ve had mixed feelings about all of the attention weight management medications have had in the news and in social media in the last couple of years. I love that more people who struggle with their weight know that we have good treatments that can help people improve their health and weight. I love that people are now ASKING their doctors about weight management treatments, pushing the health care profession to learn more about treating obesity. I don’t love the misinformation that plagues social and public media, causing a lot of fear and concern in patients and their health care professionals. Providing a source of reliable information is actually one big reason why I remain dedicated to writing this blog.

One thing I don’t have ANY mixed feelings about is the recent plunge into this arena taken by the one and only, almighty, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s special titled ‘Shame, Blame, and the Weight Loss Revolution’, which aired on Monday this week, has shaken the world of people who struggle with elevated weight, and, people who don’t. When Oprah speaks, people listen.

Oprah stood up in front of millions of people and shared her story, including endless years of public bullying by the media over her weight, decades spent feeling an intense sense of shame, and that her weight struggle was her own fault. She invited several guests to the show who shared their own trials and tribulations as well. I think about how hard it can be for a patient to open up to one single health care professional in a completely confidential medical office, and I’m really blown away by all of their courage.

Oprah’s special embraced the themes that we in obesity medicine have been advocating for years. She drew attention to the bias and stigma against people that struggle with their weight, which is categorically unacceptable. Oprah and her physician expert guests drilled home the point that obesity happens in the brain, and has powerful genetic drivers. Understanding these points can be integral to releasing people from the often deep rooted sense of self blame they may feel about their weight. The show talked about medications that can ‘quieten the brain’ signals that powerfully drive obesity when left unencumbered. The show really brought out the reality of hope, that there are now treatments that can help, and can provide relief, support, and freedom from the intense daily weight battle for many people. They also pointed out (correctly) that weight management medications can have side effects, and that these treatments don’t work for everyone.

There will not be much Oprah Effect on weight management medications – for the time being. That’s because the demand for these medications already eclipses the supply, putting them on and off shortage lists around the world. That being said, I would bet that there are a lot of people out there who feel excited, empowered, and relieved by Oprah’s words, and are now eager to talk to their doctors about treatment. Demand will likely continue to eclipse supply for some time to come.

I do think that the Oprah Effect will have a big, and much needed impact, on obesity medicine. More people (and their health care providers) will hear, understand, and accept that obesity IS a chronic disease. It is NOT simply a matter of will power. It IS strongly engrained in genetics for many people. There ARE effective treatments that can help many people who struggle with obesity. It IS high time to stop shaming people for having a chronic medical condition, for choosing (or choosing not) to treat their elevated weight. There is room for everyone, and everyone’s point of view. Each individual’s health is their own business. With love, understanding, and respect, we can better support friends, family members, patients, parents, children, colleagues, or anyone in our lives that struggle with this chronic disease.

Oprah says she’s dedicated to keep the conversation going. Oprah – the field of obesity medicine is ecstatic to have you on board!

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