Discover more from Weight and Healthcare
Weight Watchers Expands Their Harmful Model - Adding Prescription Drugs
I’ve been getting a lot of requests to write about Weight Watchers’ acquisition of Sequence, so here we go. One note that, in order to keep this from becoming Tolstoy-esque in length, there are a lot of links so that you can dig in more where you want!
I’ve been writing about Weight Watchers (aka WW) for more than a decade and I’ve noticed that one thing you can always count on Weight Watchers to do is…anything it takes to keep their stock prices up.
Marketing a dangerous weight loss app to children
Changing their name to try to co-opt the work of anti-weight stigma activists to claim they are about “health,” not weight (while selling the same old fatphobia-driven weight loss)
Keeping that going publicly while moving back to their old weight-focused messaging (and name!) in individual communications
And now…taking advantage of proposed legislation to increase access to telehealth, and piggybacking on Novo Nordisk’s massive marketing campaign for their dangerous new weight loss drug, by purchasing a telehealth company whose focus is prescribing dangerous weight loss drugs.
What is this company they are acquiring? Sequence is one of the scavenger companies that have popped up to capitalize on the massive marketing campaign around the new GLP-1 agonist class of weight loss drugs. Essentially the company employs a group of doctors and practitioners who prescribe weight loss drugs (including the new drugs as well as older drugs) with dangerous side effects and no long-term efficacy data, as well as a diet and exercise plan to people who pay a monthly subscription of $99 (which may or may not include their drugs.)
Their marketing gives us the same old thing – big print that claims that people lose 15% of their body weight on average, small print that points out that this is for a people who have been on the program for at least 26 weeks, conveniently capturing the period when weight loss is expected (about the first year,) and not capturing the 2-5 years after when research shows that about 95% regain all of the weight that they lost, without any link to the actual study to see if they are ignoring drop out rates or using other sketchy research practices. And even that claim is contradicted on their “FAQ’s page” which says “Sequence members lose 5% of their body weight within 3 months, and 10% of their body weight within 6 months.” They, of course, leave out the fact that the research does not support the idea that 5-10% of body weight loss creates health changes. (In fact, they don’t discuss actual health at all, only body size changes, taking advantage of the common myth that weight loss automatically improves health.) And, again, all of this ignores the fact that almost everyone will regain all of this weight based on all the research that exists.
They claim that medications “jumpstart” sustainable weight loss when there is absolutely no research to back that claim (and, in fact, the research says the opposite.) And if you dig into the website they are more honest that “The effects [of the “GLP Medications”] stop immediately if you stop taking the medication, and it is likely in most cases that some weight regain will occur.” (In fact, it is likely that people will regain all of the weight they lost and very likely more. Novo stopped the research after a year when people had gained back 2/3 of the weight that they lost in 68 weeks, but the trajectory was still going straight up.) What they don’t show is that there isn’t any data to suggest that the weight loss is sustainable at all. They have a “research” page, but there is literally no research there about their actual program available there, though there are a bunch of diet articles that look like they were copy/pasted from 1987 and one obligatory article on developing a “positive body image” among a sea of articles that pathologize fat bodies and encourage people to risk their health, lives, and quality of life trying to change those bodies.
On almost every page they have their 15% weight loss claim with an asterisk that directs the reader to the claim “*Based on 5,377 members who have been on the Sequence program for at least 26 weeks. Average reported body weight lost was 15.17% and the top quartile lost an average of 19.90% of body weight.” I cannot find a published study with these numbers so for all I know they were produced via…rectal pull. What I do know is that, per Forbes and the Washington Post, they were founded in 2021, had 24,000 members at the end of February 2023 and annual revenue of about $25 million, but only 5,377 people managed to stay on for six and a half months? I have A LOT of questions about this data, but no answers due to their total lack of transparency.
Their terms of service page is also illuminating, including (all caps theirs)
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT WILL WE OR OUR AFFILIATES, OR ANY OF OUR RESPECTIVE LICENSORS OR SERVICE PROVIDERS, HAVE ANY LIABILITY ARISING FROM OR RELATED TO YOUR USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE SERVICES FOR ANY ACTION YOU TAKE BASED ON THE INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE IN, THROUGH, OR FROM THE SERVICES.
THESE LIMITATIONS WILL APPLY WHETHER SUCH DAMAGES ARISE OUT OF BREACH OF CONTRACT, TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE) OR ANY OTHER THEORY OR CAUSE OF ACTION AND REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DAMAGES WERE FORESEEABLE OR WE WERE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
WE DO NOT GUARANTEE CONTINUOUS, UNINTERRUPTED OR SECURE ACCESS TO THE SERVICES OR ANY OTHER RELATED SERVICES. THE OPERATION OF THE SERVICES MAY BE INTERFERED WITH BY NUMEROUS FACTORS OUTSIDE OUR CONTROL. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL WE BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES THAT RESULT FROM THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE SERVICES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO RELIANCE BY YOU ON ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED FROM THE SERVICES OR THAT RESULT FROM MISTAKES, OMISSIONS, INTERRUPTIONS, DELETION OF FILES OR E-MAIL, ERRORS, DEFECTS, VIRUSES, DELAYS IN OPERATION OR TRANSMISSION, OR ANY FAILURE OF PERFORMANCE, WHETHER OR NOT RESULTING FROM ACTS OF GOD, COMMUNICATIONS FAILURE, THEFT, DESTRUCTION, OR UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO OUR RECORDS, OR PROGRAMS. YOU HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THIS PARAGRAPH SHALL APPLY TO ALL CONTENT, DATA, AND INFORMATION SUBMITTED TO THE SERVICES.
We may terminate your use of the Services for any or no reason at any time. YOU AGREE THAT WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE TO YOU OR ANY OTHER PARTY FOR ANY TERMINATION OF YOUR ACCESS TO THE SERVICES.
And it goes on. That, to me, does not have the ring of a company that is prioritizing people’s health.
The leader of their medical team is Dr. Spencer Nadolsky. He specializes in “ob*sity* medicine (which, of course, raises a lot of red flags.) A quick browse of openpayments.cms.gov finds that Dr. Nadolsky has accepted small payments from Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, EISAI, GlaxoSmithKline, (if these names look familiar, it may be because they are funders of astroturf orgs that lobby for insurance coverage and expanded use for these drugs,) and Purdue Pharma (makers of Oxycontin, and architects of the marketing program that Novo and others are copying, including the use of astroturf orgs to lobby for insurance coverage and expanded use of drugs.)
Now all this belongs to Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers is no stranger to the monthly-fee-for-harmful-service model, but this really ups the ante. Again, Novo Nordisk’s own research has already shown that when people go off the drugs, they rapidly regain the weight (even faster than people regain weight after a year on Weight Watchers, which is saying something.) So Novo’s marketing strategy is to suggest that living in a higher weight body is a “chronic lifelong health condition” that requires people to take their drug for life. It should be noted that they only have data on the drug for 68 weeks and their own data shows that weight loss had already leveled off and actually ticked up slightly even while people were still on the drug during those 68 weeks, so there’s no proof that staying on the drug long-term will create sustained weight loss, though we do know that it will create greater exposure to the dangerous side effects, and a ton of profits for Novo Nordisk (and now Weight Watchers.)
Again, this fits in with Weight Watchers original model. They have known from the beginning (and put in their company charter) that they are a repeat business model. As with all intentional weight loss interventions, almost everyone will lose weight short-term and gain it back long-term. They’ve been a large part of rebranding this weight cycling (which is independently linked to harm) by taking credit for the first part of the biological response (when people lose weight) and then blaming their victims for the second part of the same biological response (when the weight is regained.)
From its inception, Weight Watchers has realized that if they were willing to harm fat people they could make a ton of money. Their current leadership is continuing their long tradition of putting profits before people. Their C-Suite and shareholders will celebrate while the people generating all that money will suffer.
Oh, by the way, Weight Watchers stock went up about 50% after the announcement of their acquisition of Sequence.
So here’s a final reminder that Weight Watchers fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders, not their customers.
Did you find this post helpful? You can subscribe for free to get future posts delivered direct to your inbox, or choose a paid subscription to support the newsletter and get special benefits! Click the Subscribe button below for details:
Liked this piece? Share this piece:
More research and resources:
*Note on language: I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor as used by the fat activist community, I use “ob*se” and “overw*ight” to acknowledge that these are terms that were created to medicalize and pathologize fat bodies, with roots in racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Please read Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrison’s Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.