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How has the diet industry’s attitude about weight evolved? How does the explosive rise of Ozempic and other “GLP-1” weight loss drugs impact its current trajectory?
US weight-loss companies have made billions promoting ineffective diet and fitness advice. However, the recent, explosive rise of GLP-1 weight-loss drugs that promise faster, more effective, less stigmatizing options is forcing weight-loss companies to reevaluate their approach.
Here’s how GLP-1 drugs are changing the weight-loss industry.
GLP-1 for Weight-Loss
For decades, US weight-loss companies profited in the billions from feeding Americans a steady diet of aggressive and often harmful fasting, food, and fitness tips—banking on the fact that, in a culture where the average person gains back more than 80% of the weight they’ve lost within five years, their services would always be in demand regardless of effectiveness.
But now the industry’s once seemingly captive, cash-cow base is flocking to the greener pastures of GLP-1s, “miracle” weight-loss drugs that promise to make shedding pounds easier, faster, and more enduring than traditional weight-loss strategies. The shift is challenging the diet industry to reconsider its approach or risk irrelevancy, and it’s changing diet culture in the process.
The diet industry’s views on weight and strategies to address weight issues have shifted significantly over the past century.
In more recent years, the diet industry has shifted away from overtly negative, “blame and shame” weight-loss approaches and embraced body positivity and wellness. In 2018, industry giant WeightWatchers removed “Weight” from its name and rebranded as WW International. Since then, weight-loss companies have talked less about “dieting” and more about “positive mindsets,” the psychology of eating, and mindful behavior. Yet they’ve still quietly employed traditional weight-loss tactics like weigh-ins, food logging, daily calorie counts, and workouts. Then came the GLP-1 weight-loss drugs that led many Americans to question why they should struggle and suffer to lose weight when a better option exists.
GLP-1s’ Impact on the Diet Industry and Society
In recent years, Americans’ use of the GLP-1 medications Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro to lose weight has skyrocketed. Celebrity and influencer endorsements have fueled the popularity of the injectable drugs, which have enabled people to shed more pounds more quickly than traditional weight-loss strategies—without the stigmatization, physical exertion, and emotional labor typically wrapped up in the process.
GLP-1s’ success in helping people lose weight with relative ease has altered the commercial weight-loss landscape, including in one particularly notable way: by highlighting the longstanding ineffectiveness of the diet industry’s weight-loss approach and strategies. Traditional weight-loss companies, no longer the only game in town, must chart a new course to stay relevant and compete in the $80 billion weight management industry.
WeightWatchers and Noom chose a different path, incorporating the drugs into the fabric of their operations—the former purchasing a telehealth company and the latter launching “Noom Med” to give customers access to GLP-1 prescriptions. By folding the drugs into a broader set of “weight health” and wellness strategies and services, WeightWatchers, Noom, and other traditional weight-loss companies accomplish two things.
- They reinvent themselves to stake a claim in the new weight-management market.
- They send diet culture to pasture by conveying the broader message to society that, contrary to what the diet industry has long said, diet, exercise, and willpower are not, on their own, a magic bullet to solve weight issues, and obesity doesn’t stem from poor character or laziness.
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