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Oprah Winfrey Tackles Key Issues Around Weight Loss Drugs amid Obesity Epidemic: 'Very Personal to Me'

In a new primetime TV special airing on ABC, the Emmy-winning icon hosts an informative discussion about "shame, blame and the weight loss revolution"

<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p> Oprah Winfrey

Disney/Eric McCandless

Oprah Winfrey

After Oprah Winfrey revealed to PEOPLE in December that she was taking a prescription weight-loss medication as part of her health and wellness regimen, she quickly recognized the conversation was just beginning.

Not one to squander an opportunity to educate herself, and use her vast platform to educate others, Winfrey, 70, sought to explore timely issues surrounding the use of popular drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro for weight loss. Among the questions she considered: Why is there shame around taking the medications, and who are the drugs even intended for? What are the side-effects? Should minors take them, and how do we handle supply-chain challenges?

"It is a very personal topic for me and the millions of people impacted around the globe who have for years struggled with weight and obesity," Winfrey said ahead of a new primetime TV special that tackles those issues and related hot-button topics.

<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p> Amy Kane (left) and Oprah Winfrey

Disney/Eric McCandless

Amy Kane (left) and Oprah Winfrey

Related: Oprah Winfrey Reveals She Uses Weight-Loss Medication as a ‘Maintenance Tool': ‘I’m Absolutely Done with the Shaming’ (Exclusive)

The televised conversation, called An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution, aired Monday on ABC and will be available on Hulu Tuesday.

"In my entire life, I never dreamed that we would be talking about medicines that are providing hope for people like me who have struggled for years with being overweight or with obesity," says Winfrey during the open-dialogue special that includes a live audience, some of the country’s leading medical experts and everyday people, including a teenager named Maggie, who have a range of personal experiences with prescription weight loss medications.

"So I come to this conversation in the hope that we can start releasing the stigma and the shame and the judgment... to stop shaming other people for being overweight or how they chose to lose and not lose weight," Winfrey continues in her introduction. "And more importantly, to stop shaming ourselves."

With the important, if sometimes overlooked, fact that the American Medical Association designated obesity as a disease in 2013, Winfrey considers how the proper use of weight loss pharmaceuticals could have a "radical impact" on combating the crisis that impacts our health care system, economy, lifestyle and culture.

<p>Eric Charbonneau/Getty</p> Oprah Winfrey at the L.A. premiere of "The Color Purple" on Dec. 06, 2023

Eric Charbonneau/Getty

Oprah Winfrey at the L.A. premiere of "The Color Purple" on Dec. 06, 2023

Among the medical experts taking part in the show are Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. W. Scott Butsch, ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. Amanda Velazquez. Other guests include leaders from the two global pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, behind the drugs to address what it might mean for the 100 million Americans and over 1 billion adults worldwide living with the disease of obesity. (Eli Lilly manufactures Zepbound and Mounjaro; Novo Nordisk manufactures Ozempic and Wegovy).

Perhaps above all else, Winfrey hopes the special helps release the shame, judgment and stigma surrounding weight.

It’s something she knows all too well.

For as long as she has been in the public eye, the icon’s body journey has played out in the media, on magazine covers and on episodes of her own eponymous hit talk show that ran for 25 seasons. "It was public sport to make fun of me for 25 years," Winfrey told PEOPLE in December. "I have been blamed and shamed, and I blamed and shamed myself."

<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p> Dr. Amanda Velazquez (left), Dr. W. Scott Butsch and Oprah Winfrey

Disney/Eric McCandless

Dr. Amanda Velazquez (left), Dr. W. Scott Butsch and Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey is optimistic that she now has a better handle on how to maintain a healthy weight long-term and rid herself of shame once and for all. Using a holistic approach that includes regular exercise and other lifestyle tweaks, Winfrey added a weight-loss medication to her regimen last year. (She does not share what medication she takes.)

Weight fluctuations "occupied five decades of space in my brain, yo-yoing and feeling like why can’t I just conquer this thing, believing willpower was my failing," says Winfrey, whose dogged rehabilitation after knee surgery in 2021 kick-started what has been steady weight loss over the last two years.

"After knee surgery, I started hiking and setting new distance goals each week. I could eventually hike three to five miles every day and a 10-mile straight-up hike on weekends," she says. "I felt stronger, more fit and more alive than I’d felt in years."

<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p> Sima Sistani (left), Amy Kane and Oprah Winfrey

Disney/Eric McCandless

Sima Sistani (left), Amy Kane and Oprah Winfrey

Related: Oprah Winfrey Opens Up About the Moments That Changed Her Life

The turning point for Winfrey’s approach to using pharmaceutical aids herself came last July during a taped panel conversation with weight loss experts and clinicians, called The State of Weight and part of Oprah Daily’s Life You Want series.

"I had the biggest aha along with many people in that audience," she recalls of the discussion. "I realized I’d been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control."

She adds, "Obesity is a disease. It’s not about willpower — it's about the brain."

Once she reconciled the science, Winfrey told PEOPLE she "released my own shame about it" and consulted her doctor, who went on to prescribe a weight-loss medication. "I now use it as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing," she says. "The fact that there's a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for. I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself."

Related: Oprah Winfrey Was 'Blamed and Shamed' for Weight for 25 Years: 'Didn’t Occur to Me That I Could Feel Angry' (Exclusive)

Winfrey is aware of the buzz around her body size, especially as the use of medications like Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro for weight loss has surged in popularity. But she stresses it has not been a magic bullet or singular solution.

"It’s everything," she says of her all-encompassing health and fitness routine. "I know everybody thought I was on it, but I worked so damn hard. I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me."

In the end, she shared, "It was a second shot for me to live a more vital and vibrant life."

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