On March 4, WW Worldwide Inc. (aka WeightWatchers) introduced that it’s buying a digital well being firm known as Sequence, which presents telehealth prescriptions for the appetite-suppressing medication Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro.
Moving into the load loss drug area is a little bit of a pivot for WeightWatchers. The previous a number of years have seen an increase within the visibility of physique positivity, from Victoria’s Secret reserving plus-sized fashions to a Cosmopolitan cowl story that includes ladies of a wide range of sizes together with the tagline “That is wholesome!” Stars like Lizzo, Melanie Lynskey, and Nicola Coughlan have all lately used their affect to remind us that skinny shouldn’t be synonymous with wholesome; the connection between weight and well being is difficult.
WeightWatchers had tried to adapt to this pattern. It rebranded in 2018 to WW Worldwide, saying on its web site, “WW welcomes anybody who desires to construct wholesome habits,” and “We work for everybody: Our app is now configured to assist folks attain all their wellness objectives, not simply weight reduction.” They stripped the phrase “eating regimen” from the ”About” web page on their web site, and advised traders that their longtime ticker image, WTW, now stood for “Wellness That Works.” Now, with the Sequence acquisition, it appears at first look like WeightWatchers is merely following the subsequent pattern.
After the WW rebrand, critics didn’t actually purchase the concept that WeightWatchers had modified its core mission, although its subscriber base did develop. Then the pandemic hit. WeightWatchers switched from in-person courses to digital subscriptions, which by no means introduced in as a lot income—after which pale in reputation as soon as lockdowns ended. Their inventory sank 30 p.c in 2021 and their CEO stepped down. Now, underneath new CEO Sima Sistani, WeightWatchers is again to its outdated branding. The “About WW” web page says, “WeightWatchers is for individuals who need extra from weight reduction.”
Providing prescriptions for medication which have shortly turn out to be the standing drug du jour might be a very cynical strategy to appeal to youthful customers and hook them into digital subscriptions that they are going to be loath to desert (going off the medication can trigger weight achieve).
That’s precisely the course we’d anticipate from an organization that spent the ’80s and early ’90s promising miracle outcomes—after which spent 20 years complying with the phrases of a settlement settlement for false advertising. And WeightWatchers has certainly been attempting to increase their viewers: In 2019, they purchased Kurbo, a youngsters’s weight reduction app. (Then, they dropped the corporate final yr after they had been sued by the Federal Commerce Fee for allegedly harvesting minors’ knowledge with out parental consent.)
However there’s truly purpose to imagine that WeightWatchers is returning to their deal with weight with a barely extra nuanced (and adult-oriented) strategy. With the Sequence acquisition, the corporate is positioning itself to help prospects who already use semaglutides like Ozempic and Wegovy, and to assist get these medication into the arms of the affected person inhabitants they had been meant for: folks managing diabetes and people trying to shed some pounds as a part of a doctor-recommended well being plan.
“We have now little interest in prescribing drugs to those that try to lose 10 kilos for a reunion,” WW’s chief scientific officer, Gary Foster, advised the Wall Avenue Journal. That appears to be true: I don’t meet the Meals and Drug Administration’s eligibility necessities for these medication, however I attempted to get a prescription via Sequence anyway; it already presents subscriptions for round 24,000 customers, who pay $99 a month for the privilege of getting a physician nearly handle their semaglutide prescriptions. I supplied up my weight, peak, and medical historical past in a fast on-line kind. Sequence didn’t supply me medication.
That sort of screening round semaglutides is necessary. Wegovy, which was authorized by the FDA in 2021, is designed for weight reduction, whereas Ozempic is designed for diabetes administration. Wegovy grew to become much more standard than drugmakers anticipated (together with amongst people who find themselves not medically eligible), inflicting a scarcity. Since then, docs have been prescribing Ozempic off-label for weight reduction; in Australia, the federal government requested docs to prioritize diabetes sufferers. It’s not clear how Sequence has dealt with the ups and downs of those shortages, or how they could deal with future shortages underneath WeightWatchers’ possession. However both method, WeightWatchers definitely has loads of customers who is perhaps fascinated by—and eligible for—prescriptions for each medication.
WeightWatchers’ prospects skew on the older aspect; the standard WeightWatchers person, as of 2018, was a lady in her 50s. In accordance with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, about 11 p.c of U.S. adults have diabetes, and over 40 p.c have weight problems.
That is the group that medication like Ozempic and Wegovy are literally designed to serve, and WeightWatchers already reaches them. WW’s wholesome consuming and train program is already acknowledged by the CDC as an evidence-based diabetes prevention program; precisely the sort of useful resource that docs advocate alongside medication like Ozempic.
And these medication—whereas new, costly, and with downsides—do seem to assist some folks, like Paul Ford, who shared his expertise with Mounjaro in Wired, and Ron Passmore, who spoke with Slate. Ozempic helped Passmore lose 100 kilos. Extra importantly, it helped him management the blood sugar spikes and weight achieve related to long-term insulin use for diabetes.
In asserting the acquisition, WeightWatchers additionally stated that they’ll supply new consuming and train recommendation tailor-made for folks taking these medication. Of their annual report back to shareholders this yr, they leaned into the connection between weight administration and well being. Final yr, they described themselves as “the world’s main business weight administration program.” This yr, they centered on their “science-based, clinically efficient weight reduction and weight administration program.”
Whereas the road between “weight reduction for well being outcomes” and “weight reduction due to societal strain” is extremely muddy, presumably this acquisition may streamline well being administration for a significant chunk of WeightWatchers’ prospects. It is sensible to handle therapies holistically. It additionally is sensible financially for WeightWatchers to attempt to take a lower.