The Biggest Loser – Look It Ain’t Perfect TV But Does it Deserve To Be Equated With Dwarf Throwing?
Each year when The Biggest Loser airs there is the usual people who come out to give the show a bit of stick. This time it is Professor Gary Wittert, who as well as being Head Of Medicine at the University of Adelaide but is also on the Weight Management Council of Australia. He is criticising the show in an article in Indaily an Adelaide newspaper. The Professor is calling for the show to be taken off air because it stigmatises fat people.
The Biggest Loser obviously has its faults but it also has helped quite a few people to transform their lives.
Professor Wittert was very negative about the show but he lost me when he equated having overweight people on screen was as bad as dwarf tossing. Clearly with the growing amount of of obese people including children in Australia the Weight Management Council of Australia it would appear it had important work to do!
But who is the Weight Management Council of Australia and who are their members? The Council is a not for profit organisation that oversights the Weight Management Code of Practice. I am presuming this is the weight loss industry code.
The membership includes Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, who as weight loss companies probably don’t like The Biggest Loser’s commercial interests in the weight loss industry.
As a Professor who knows something about research, I would be curious to know whether he has bothered to contact former contestants of the show to get their thoughts on the weight loss regime they undertook.
Yes folks for some reason this article pissed me off.
Here is the article below with my thoughts on it in bold:
THE head of medicine at the University of Adelaide has called for weight loss television show The Biggest Loser to be taken off the air, saying it is psychologically damaging to the people involved.
And who are these people are that have said it is psychologically damaging? Give me a case study. Has he bothered to contact any past contests to get their opinion or send a survey to the past contestants to canvas their views?
Professor Gary Wittert, who is also an obesity researcher, told Indaily the show, in which contestants are weighed weekly and subjected to intense exercise and diet regimes, entrenched stereotypes and held obese people up for ridicule.
The Biggest Loser and other reality shows is about the only programs on TV where obese people are shown. Sure showing them food binging feeds into viewers voyeurism , but it also shows how out of control they have become. Programs like The Biggest Loser also shows the contestants as human beings with thoughts, feelings and dreams.
“Do we still do dwarf tossing?,” Wittert said.
“I don’t think [obesity] is a matter for entertainment.
Dwarf tossing? Well not exactly but there is a reality show Seven Dwarves which was very popular in the UK showcasing seven dwarfs in a preparing for a production of Snow White. There are other little people shows which people watch for entertainment and to learn more about how it is like to live life as a short person.
“Look at the hashtag [discussion on Twitter]. These people are held to ridicule and you can’t put anything on television that holds people to ridicule.
Sure there will be people ridiculing obese people and contestants on the social media (interesting he did not have an example of a tweet in the story), but there are also probably more people being supportive and connecting with their stories and cheering on their transformation.
“You also have an incorrect perception of a serious disorder. You have an approach which I believe is psychologically damaging for people involved and the people watching.”
Find us a contestant Professor Wissart that who is willing to say they were psychologically scarred from being on the show. Sure it does not work for all, but it does break the cycle for others. Also just as there will be people eating chocolate whilst watching the program it also motivates other people to get on their bike so to speak.
Wittert, who is also on the Weight Management Council of Australia, said the group had written to the Australian Communications and Media Authority complaining about the program.
What next people complaining to ACMA that Teen Mom promotes teen pregnancy?
“Our research and multiple studies have shown that people who suffer severe obesity are discriminated against in multiple ways, including being less likely to get a job.
Agree – obese people are discriminated against. But the group he is writing on behalf of also has members with commercial interests in the diet industry.
“There is evidence that programs of this type entrench those [discriminatory] attitudes for people who watch them.”
What evidence? These programs show the people as human beings that we identify with and even see a bit of ourselves in at times. The overwhelming majority on the official Facebook page of The Biggest Loser is positive and supportive.
Wittert is urging people to sign a petition established by Tara Peak, who believes the show promotes unhealthy exercise and diets which could trigger eating disorders and body image issues, to pull the show from the air, or at minimum, provide a warning.
Whaaattt? So now the show is also behind other eating disorders, does she mean bulmia and anorexia? Body image issues? The proliferation of thin beautiful people on all the other TV programs might contribute more to body image issues then this show. Reality TV at least shows real people in all different shapes and sizes.
At deadline the petition had 843 signatures.
“The guilt, shame and fear tactics utilised on the show are not the way to go about ‘changing the shape of Australia’,” Peak said in a statement.
“Yes, obesity is an issue of concern in our society, but so are eating disorders and body image issues.”
Huh? I would have thought more people are being effected by obesity and the cost this is having on our health system than people having body image issues or other eating disorders (not detracting from the seriousness of them either). A Sydney University article in 2010 said obesity cost Australian’s $21 billion a year and it would be growing. In the future it will overtake smoking related health issues. Smoking has decreased in our population due to education campaigns and there is some stigma associated with smoking these days. People would see this stigma is a positive thing.
Wittert said the program promoted an “intensification of effort” to solve obesity, which in a lot of cases would not be possible.
“It’s unrealistic to think that this [weight loss] can be maintained and if they can’t do it, it will create major problems for their self-esteem because they are failing and it’s their fault and … nothing can be further from the truth.”
Sure the way they lose wait is radical and extreme, but these people are desperate, why else would they expose themselves on TV? For most contestants they welcome the change that occurs. Sure they put on weight post show as has been written previously, about normal life makes it difficult to train six hours a day and the temptations of food are out there. However a lot keep a lot of it off and are no long grossly or morbidly obese.
The 2013 series, which began on Network Ten this week, has attracted increased criticism because of its inclusion of children.
“To have kids, I mean come on, what message does this send to other children and what does it do for perception of obesity?”
Obesity expert at Wollongong University Samantha Thomas said it was “disappointing” that The Biggest Loser was considered “great viewing” given obese people suffered the most discrimination.
“I think that the program like The Biggest Loser are pretty unhelpful in that they create some fairly huge stereotypes about what fat people do to make themselves that fat and what they have to do in order to become thin and I think the lot of the solutions as are very extreme and unsustainable,” Thomas said.
“There are certain things which almost make them out to be the freak in the circus – videoing binge eating, they used to have competitions which are around temptation or things like pulling trains and exercising for hours. It sends an unhelpful message to people.”
Thomas has done studies speaking to people with obesity about how the program affects them.
“The vast majority say programs like The Biggest Loser add to the stigma and shame they experience.
Again this other academic expert needs to go look at The Biggest Loser official facebook page. The majority of the people watching the program get hooked on the “journey” these people go on and see them break them attempt weight loss cycle.
“One girl was saying after The Biggest Loser aired she would get yelled at with people saying: ‘Were you one of the people that didn’t make [the show]’.
Are her studies based on one persons experience? I am just going to presume her studies have more substance then that otherwise I will get depressed over academic rigour at out universities.
“The other thing that is said is that they knew what they were signing up for, but I think a lot of fat people are absolutely desperate to change because of the broader stigma.
Maybe she needs to watch the show. They sign up so they can lose weight and they are desperate with other weight loss measures not working. Stigma or not they are not able to live life to the full because of their weight and the low self esteem they have because of it. Sure there needs to be fat acceptance but the majority NOT all don’t want to be overweight for health and social reasons.
Instead of reality programs focussed on extreme measures, Wittert and Thomas want to see efforts to reduce the stigma around obesity.
“Why don’t they get Stephanie Alexander to run a healthy eating for kids show? Why don’t you have someone create a documentary on what happens on when you process food?” Wittert said.
Pitch that to the ABC…. also I think Jamie Oliver may have already done a show like this.
Thomas said she would like to see shows enforcing a positive perception of people with obesity engaging in healthy activities.
Well on The Great Australian Bake Off we are going to see one contestant who is member of Aquaporko a synchronised swimming group of larger ladies. Will that do it?
“One thing we’ve found is if we can try to work out ways that people can get rid of that stigma, we’ll enable people to become healthier and happier.”
Will getting rid of the stigma for morbidly obese people really help with reducing the amount of type 2 diabetes in Australia? Nah I did not think so. Sure there is a lot of pantomime around the show but they are right about one thing the next generation is looking at having a shorter lifespan then their forebears.
I think there will be different viewpoints on this blog post so let me know what you think about The Biggest Loser?