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Weight Loss Programmes & ITV's Biggest Loser

As inspiring as the finale eventually was, ‘The Biggest Loser’ only goes to highlight that the programme is purely an excuse for another ratings-chasing reality TV show. Looking at last night’s comments on Twitter there’s no doubt that the 4 million strong audience was won over by the significant weight loss of the finalists and other participants. A lot of this was enhanced by the make-overs of those taken out of their unflattering lycra shorts and tent-like t-shirts and re-modelled into Oscar winning red-carpet gowns and suits.

Let’s not forget that until the final, the format of the show was still one of “freak show”, humiliating the contestants. In one show participants were essentially force fed to create a contest with discounted weight loss as the prize. Whilst the concept in general, that of encouraging people to lose weight is not inherently bad, the execution could not be more flawed.
Any weight loss programme requires understanding of the individual’s background, their requirements in terms of fitness regimes and tolerances to diets. This means that teams of individuals should collectively encourage rather than competitively second guess or even undermine other participants in their struggle to lose weight. Weight loss is not – and should never be – a competition.
The fact is that this country is facing an obesity epidemic with co-morbidities complications arising from high blood pressure, potential heart disease, strains on joints, diabetes etc. This means that serious approaches to weight loss need to be adopted, and public education about the need for weight loss programmes has an important role to play. ‘The Biggest Loser’ has crossed the line from information to ridicule and I urge the producers to think very hard before unleashing a follow up series without a radical re-think of the format and content. Messages need to underline the need for medical supervision to ensure continued success and adherence to a healthy lifestyle and controlled intake of calories.

During the final show there were no messages given out by the programme makers of long-term weight loss after the TV cameras disappear.” In fact it was the winner Wil, who summed it up so accurately, saying that he knew his extreme weight-loss was only possible because he’d had personal trainers and support for a period of 21 weeks. And most people don’t have the chance to do that, due to work and family commitments and the stresses and strains of everyday living.

Dr David Ashton

2nd March 2011 

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