Okay, I’ll admit it. I have watched a few seasons of The Biggest Loser and will not deny shedding a few tears after witnessing the inspiring stories of overweight individuals and their motivation to change their lives for the better. I wanted to know more about reality TV weight loss shows and their impact on its viewers and this study caught my eye.
Researchers Domoff et al studied “The Effects of Reality Television on Weight Bias: an Examination of the Biggest Loser.” The Biggest Loser (TBL) reality television show is a popular tv show documenting the weight loss efforts of several contestants. Going into its thirteenth season, the show has been viewed by millions. Researchers performed a blind experiment on undergraduate psychology students by placing half in a group that watched 40 minutes of TBL and the other half watched a show irrelevant to weight loss. Questionnaires on weight loss and obesity attitudes were given pre and post tv show viewings.
Researchers found that watching TBL was associated with increased anti-fat attitudes as well as increased beliefs the body weight is controllable. These attitudes and beliefs were also associated with an increased dislike towards obese individuals. Therefore, implying that since body weight is controllable, those with obesity were unable to take responsibility and help themselves.
Why it matters?
Although this research study has limitations (limited to psychology students, young and college educated population), it speaks volumes on the effect of mainstream popular culture and the ideas and beliefs it cultivates around the causes and manageability of medical conditions such as obesity. Individuals who are really seeking a path towards empowered wellness design should be wary of popular tv shows and advertisements of weight loss as they sometimes overlook all the factors related to obesity, weight loss and weight gain. As a result, these products often skew our perceptions of health and fitness and even attitudes about obesity.
Let’s get straight to the point. If all it took for people to be lean and fit was an inspiring story, commitment, good eating and exercise, we’d all be looking like the cover of Men and Women’s Fitness magazines. The truth is there are so many other factors influencing good fitness and eating behavior and sometimes commitment, good eating and exercise just isn’t enough (check out our last in depth post on the Macro Food Environment). This is not to say that shows like TBL are wrong and shouldn’t be watched. It is great in that it has displayed numerous accounts of the strength of the human spirit and condition to become better and healthier. However, as it stands weekly TV shows may not be enough to fully and accurately demonstrate what it takes to empower oneself into taking responsiblity for their own wellness. We should just be more wary of the information that is out there and take into account the external and internal forces the affect our bodies and behavior before we make decisions and shape attitudes about health, fitness and wellness.
Thanks to Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley for highlighting this study.
Photo via Alan Cleaver