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Pharmaceutical Industry Is Bankrolling Obesity Group That Promotes ‘Body Positivity’

An obesity group determined to destigmatize obesity on behalf of Big Pharma is akin to Big Tobacco funding projects to destigmatize smoking.

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The world’s top pharmaceutical companies raking record profits from the latest generation of obesity drugs are bankrolling a group behind the contemporary phenomenon of “health at every size.”

A new report and database published by Baron Public Affairs last month outlines pharmaceutical sponsorships for trade organizations promoting obesity as a chronic disease warranting health care coverage rather than a preventable symptom of underlying metabolic dysfunction. One such group with funding from major drug manufacturers Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Boehringer Ingelheim is the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), an organization at the center of the far-left movement for “body positivity.”

According to the database released by Baron Public Affairs, OAC has received contributions from at least six pharmaceutical companies in 2022, including Amgen, Biohaven, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer. The most significant sponsorships have come from the producer of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, which contributed an undisclosed amount of more than $100,000. Pfizer reportedly gave $100,000, while Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Zepbound, and Boehringer Ingelheim, a company with its own weight-loss drug in progress, each gave between $50,000 and $100,000.

Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk are the two largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, with a combined market cap of more than $1 trillion. Pfizer and Amgen are the 9th and 10th largest pharmaceutical giants, respectively.

Other sponsors listed on the OAC website include the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, Regeneron, and The Obesity Society. According to the report from Baron Public Affairs, 35 percent, or roughly a third of OAC’s revenues, have come from the pharmaceutical industry.

OAC and Body Positivity

An obesity nonprofit determined to radically destigmatize obesity on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry is akin to Big Tobacco funding a front group to destigmatize smoking. OAC has been a primary vehicle for the grassroots movement to accept obesity as the new norm in a nation where nearly 74 percent of American adults aged 20 and older are either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A brochure on the OAC website reads, “Given how acceptable weight stigma is in our society, transforming societal attitudes and enacting laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight are needed in order to eliminate the problem of stigma toward individuals affected by obesity.”

In 2005, the OAC was launched “with the goal that this organization could create needed change for those who are living with and/or are affected by the disease of obesity.” Nearly 20 years later, the coalition operates today with industry funding plus dues from more than 80,000 members.

The “action” demanded by the OAC includes the “elimination of weight bias in our society and laws” based on the “belief” that obesity is a matter of “disease” out of individuals’ control rather than one of personal responsibility. The group’s “Stop Weight Bias Campaign” has its own website and is sponsored by Eli Lilly and WeightWatchers, the legacy weight-loss company now prescribing members the GLP-1 agonists produced by Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk.

Last year, the OAC held a panel at the group’s virtual convention on “Body Positivity” to “unpack common cultural perceptions around weight stigma and diet culture.” The OAC even has an advocacy statement on “Size Acceptance and Body Positivity,” which reads “we need to promote size acceptance and lessen the cultural obsession with thinness.” The statement adds that obesity is a “chronic disease” that cannot be “diagnosed by body mass index (BMI) or body size.”

“We need to change perceptions of body size and end weight bias, stigma and discrimination,” the statement reads.

The OAC also posts journalistic “guidelines” that are endorsed by The Obesity Society (TOS) and the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), both of which have also received funding from the pharmaceutical industry according to the Baron health report. The recommendations instruct reporters to promote diversity and steer clear of “an unnecessary or distorted emphasis on body weight.”

“Descriptions of a person’s body weight should not imply negative assumptions about his or her character, intelligence, abilities, or lifestyle habits,” the guidelines read. Journalists should “consider carefully whether terminology and language used to describe body weight could be offensive to persons with obesity” and are encouraged to avoid the terms “fat” or “severely obese.”

“OAC’s focus on the needs and interests of individuals living with the disease of obesity has existed long before pharmaceutical companies became active in this space,” OAC Spokeswoman Kendall Griffey told The Federalist. “Our commitment to addressing weight bias and stigma remains a top priority. Stigma and bias impact people with obesity whether or not they choose to seek treatment. OAC’s view has always been that stigma and bias keep people from seeking and receiving help.”

The Dark Side of ‘Miracle’ Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies operating in a $4.5 trillion health care industry have an obvious incentive to market supposed “game changer” weight-loss drugs to a chronically overweight population that is fighting a losing war against obesity. The drugs themselves, however, prescribed to treat a preventable condition that already has a cure, come with their own long list of complications for patients desperate to lose weight after government guidelines on optimal nutrition have failed them for years. The medications initially invented to treat patients with type 2 diabetes do not come without risk.

Common side effects of the medications include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some users have reported more severe gastrointestinal issues, such as pancreatitis and stomach paralysis, and the latter condition recently provoked a lawsuit against Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk.

Consumers of the popular weight-loss medications have also reported a decreased desire to smoke, consume alcohol, or engage in sex, while experiencing increased levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The reduced cravings are a sign of the medications’ suppression of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which drives the brain to seek out rewards. The drugs’ myriad psychological impacts, however, remain underexplored, and according to The New York Times, researchers aren’t even sure exactly how the medications work to help people lose weight. Given the drugs have only recently been prescribed off-label to combat obesity, their long-term consequences for treating the problem also remain a mystery.

Most health insurance plans will cover the drugs if prescribed for another medical condition, but not solely for weight loss. In March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded approval for Wegovy (manufactured by Novo Nordisk) to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death in people who are overweight or obese. According to NPR, FDA approval opened the door for Medicare Part D enrollees to seek coverage for one of the “new blockbuster weight-loss drugs” now “for the first time.”

Novo Nordisk’s Politician Lobbyists

Coverage under Medicare has remained a goal for pharmaceutical companies since the latest class of weight-loss medications hit the market. The companies appear to have recruited prominent politicians in the effort to expand their base of customers with government-subsidized treatment. According to public lobbying records, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lobbied on behalf of Novo Nordisk in 2020 and 2021, just before the FDA approved Wegovy for weight management in patients who suffer at least one other weight-related condition. Christie’s firm, Christie 55 Solutions, received $120,000 from the pharmaceutical giant in 2020 and $40,000 in 2021.

Christie’s firm did not respond to The Federalist’s repeated inquiries, but a lobbyist registration form kept by the House and Senate describes the former governor’s work as dealing with “regulation with respect to coverage of drug categories in Medicare Part D.”

The government transparency website OpenSecrets lists other politicians who went to work for Novo Nordisk, including former Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat who represented Wisconsin in the House of Representatives from 1997 to 2023, and former Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat who represented Oregon from 2009 to 2023. Kind was paid $80,000 by the company in 2024 and Schrader made $60,000. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat who represented North Dakota’s at-large district from 1993 to 2011, also made $240,000 lobbying for Novo Nordisk in 2019 and $40,000 in 2020. Former Rep. Jim Davis, a Democrat from Florida in the House from 1997 to 2007, is also listed on OpenSecrets as a lobbyist for Novo Nordisk who made $200,000 in 2022.


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