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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?

27 comments

1 Lebay { 03.20.13 at 3:41 pm }

Lets forget the ridicule of the contestants, they have signed up for this, they know what they are in for….. How about people like me. I’m fat (yep really fat, I know it, lets hold on the hate and diet tips please) and when TBL airs makes MY life a misery….

Look, I have to deal with teenage boys yelling things at me all year, during TBL it comes thick and fast. Out of passing cars, snide remarks in the supermarket etc etc… Then there is work, there are 2 sorts of people who seem to watch TBL, overweight people who want to pick up tips clearly, but then there are the ones who want to start with the ‘how does someone get like this….’ the laughter as the fatties fall and cry.. the people who generally watch it as a comedy (and they do exist)

I didn’t sign up for this… and I don’t deserve it… what’s more, as we all seem to know TBL is not real, the ‘weekly’ weigh ins happen 9-10 days apart, people dehydrate themselves to lose that extra and the routine is not able to be followed at home. TBL just makes me sad, sad that there is people out there so shamed that they would sign up for this public flaying.

As I write this, an ad for TBL just came on… The female trainer screeching at a man that he was embarrassing himself by not trying hard enough… The man was wringing wet with sweat and clearly got that way by physical exercise, what is the point of this abuse? Well other than making a shitload of money from the meal replacements?

2 brain dead dave { 03.20.13 at 3:46 pm }

This Sunday Michelle Bridges is told to ” **** off ” by one of the fatties. This is after she’s sledged him about whether he wants to be a pussy or man up.

I know it’s wrong to laugh at the bogans that go on this show but it’s one of my top three favourites. It started going downhill a bit with the abandonment of the Noll$y obesity anthem.

It’s a tough regime and already one contestant has threatened to leave after two workouts. A couple of them are having to give up smoking on the show as well.

The promos are trumpeting the arrival of Big Kev on Sunday night, the heaviest Loser in any series of TBL.

I don’t think that Professor is going anywhere with that dwarf tossing analogy, either. This is more like tossing the children of dwarves into the mix as well.

3 Joseph Skyrim { 03.20.13 at 4:12 pm }

“…. I think the lot of the solutions as are very extreme and unsustainable.” So diet and exercise is wrong apparently. I wonder what they’d replace it with. Drugs and suicide?

“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.” Hahah I wish. Tell that to the Kardashians, the Jersey Shore people, and pretty much any and everything that’s on TV.

So much stupid in that article. I wonder if these people have ever been to a personal training session in their life – you don’t need to be obese to be passing out, throwing up etc. That happens to me often when training capoeira.

4 Veronica { 03.20.13 at 4:13 pm }

I believe TBL does indeed stigmatize overweight people. I have been overweight and never ate the ridiculous amounts the contestants are shown consuming and I doubt they do either.
Imagine the uproar if alcoholics were shown binge drinking and falling over so those of us who don’t over indulge could laugh and feel superior.
Lebay@1, I’m sorry you are suffering more than isual at this time.

5 kess { 03.20.13 at 4:14 pm }

Worse than dwarf tossing – they don’t advertise that.

looks to have sunk to a new low, dragging poor already abused kids to be humiliated publicly, the adds disgust me – this is your only solution after making your poor kid fat?

6 brain dead dave { 03.20.13 at 4:17 pm }

“Imagine the uproar if alcoholics were shown binge drinking and falling over so those of us who don’t over indulge could laugh and feel superior”

That’s called The Logies.

7 Joseph Skyrim { 03.20.13 at 4:30 pm }

Lebay – show or not, you are being ridiculed right? Clearly it bothers you based on your reply, but the question is – are you happy with how you are? If so then why the hell do you even give those brats the time of day. They don’t know how good it is to be you. F-iretr-uck them.

If you -aren’t- happy with yourself however, you may want to look into doing something about it. Life is all about making yourself a better person (I think anyway), and if your weight is the only thing you need to fix then you are a zillion miles ahead of me. My list of things to fix with myself goes on forever. I just added “stop being preachy.” 😛

@Veronice (4) – There are shows like that already. See Jersey Shore. 😉

8 Reality Raver { 03.20.13 at 4:32 pm }

LeBay – sorry to hear you get crap from people about your weight. I think about Loser is that people who go on this show are desperate for the intervention and life change. Sure it is not ideal but other methods have not worked. The one thing I do enjoy is seeing the people gain more confidence from being on the show.

BDD – I think the show does change behaviours I nearly fell off the couch the other night when was it jess or amber said they smoked 50 cigarettes a day. I was like woah you are a ticking timebomb.

Veronica – Geordie Shore and Jersey Shore are those two shows that show excessive drinking. I feel nothing but compassion for the contestants of course there is all the smoke and mirror that go with reality TV. Spy cam yeah sure and the food they were eating, but it breaks a cycle for most of them.

Kess – I must admit I had reservations about the bringing the overweight kid in. It will be interesting to see how he goes I think in the end it will be a positive thing for him at a time when he is probably thinking girls, girls, girls.

9 Lebay { 03.20.13 at 4:53 pm }

Im very happy with who I am, I know that for various reasons its not going to change in a hurry. I am very used to the comments etc from people who have no idea about me, I was just pointing out that it happens much much more often during the run of TBL.

RR sometimes I think the confidence is more Stockholm Syndrome…

10 Rob { 03.20.13 at 5:15 pm }

Glad to see TBL still being flogged silly by MKR and The Block. Fingers crossed the Easter non-ratings will help it sink further and post Easter will see it crushed by The Voice (can’t believe I’m posting support for The Voice). TBL is such a dinosaur, it’s like the useless outdated appendix of reality TV where contestants are still abused and degraded and embarrassed for audience satisfaction. All that went out years ago on shows like Idol and Big Brother. I don’t find it pleasant to watch overweight kids being ranted at and their equally low self-esteem parents being guilted to tears and I’m pleased that the rest of Australia agree with me.

11 Remued { 03.20.13 at 6:33 pm }

And there’s no mention of the benefits of a shirtless Commando.

12 A.P { 03.20.13 at 6:38 pm }

Lebay@1, its good to hear what you go through on a daily basis, especially when TBL goes to air, and might give us all something to think about.
I think the physical abuse the contestants are put through, more so at the start of their journey, goes way over the top.
No one should exercise to the point of collapsing or vomiting surely?
These people are not used to such workouts and should be eased into it slowly or someone will have a heart attack one day and die on tv. Would that be good for ratings?
I never go to gyms, walking is my only exercise so I could never handle what they dish out, and as for jumping off that cliff in the first ep, no way would I do that!

13 nate { 03.20.13 at 7:25 pm }

As someone who experienced a weight loss show first hand let me tell you a bit about my experience. The show I was on was Excess Baggage. I never contemplated auditioning for Biggest Loser as I had heard many horror stories about the weight loss not being manageable in the real world.

Then Excess Baggage came along and it was an opportunity I could not let miss. Real world situations (albeit) in a crazy situation doing silly challenged and flying all over the country.

We were never forced to eat healthy, never forced to train. We saw the show trainer maybe twice a week and the rest was up to us. Yes, the hours were ridiculous and sometimes all we could find to eat were the same meals offered in the crew catering truck. We were never starved nor was extreme weightloss promoted as the outcome of the show.

Yes, I went on Excess Baggage to transform my body but also to transform my mind. Through the show mind man who was on air and available to us whenever we needed I was able to confront some major demons that once gone enabled me to lose weoght and become a much happier person.

We were not fed, 100% of the time it was up to us to make the healthy choice. After weighin some contestents use to have a few drinks and go a bit lax on the diet but it was the real world.

One of the contestants on the show had some terrible things ti say about biggest loser. Locked fridges, relentless training, contestants going to extremes to lose the weight.

This is what worries me the most about having kids on biggest loser. The weight loss on that show is grear but in the longterm is itsustainable?

I know the majority of the contestants on EB have kept off the weight and are still on track, but those who are not a very vwry happy with themselves.

It is mind, body and soul. Not just body. If the contestants of Biggest Loser trai their guts off but dont

14 nate { 03.20.13 at 7:26 pm }

As someone who experienced a weight loss show first hand let me tell you a bit about my experience. The show I was on was Excess Baggage. I never contemplated auditioning for Biggest Loser as I had heard many horror stories about the weight loss not being manageable in the real world.

Then Excess Baggage came along and it was an opportunity I could not let miss. Real world situations (albeit) in a crazy situation doing silly challenged and flying all over the country.

We were never forced to eat healthy, never forced to train. We saw the show trainer maybe twice a week and the rest was up to us. Yes, the hours were ridiculous and sometimes all we could find to eat were the same meals offered in the crew catering truck. We were never starved nor was extreme weightloss promoted as the outcome of the show.

Yes, I went on Excess Baggage to transform my body but also to transform my mind. Through the show mind man who was on air and available to us whenever we needed I was able to confront some major demons that once gone enabled me to lose weoght and become a much happier person.

We were not fed, 100% of the time it was up to us to make the healthy choice. After weighin some contestents use to have a few drinks and go a bit lax on the diet but it was the real world.

One of the contestants on the show had some terrible things ti say about biggest loser. Locked fridges, relentless training, contestants going to extremes to lose the weight.

This is what worries me the most about having kids on biggest loser. The weight loss on that show is grear but in the longterm is itsustainable?

I know the majority of the contestants on EB have kept off the weight and are still on track, but those who are not a very vwry happy with themselves.

It is mind, body and soul. Not just body. If the contestants of Biggest Loser train their guts off but dont train their minds then they are doomed for failure… it is the kids I am worried about.

15 bron { 03.20.13 at 10:04 pm }

Hi Nate, thanks for sharing what went on with Excess Baggage. It’s a shame that the show was given such a short run on channel 9 before they shafted it to GO (or whatever station it appeared on.) That show finally gave a realistic approach to weight loss, compared to what we see on the biggest loser. 1000 calories a day diet, 5+ hours working out and then put that on top of the humiliation that they’re put through with the challenges and even the comments the trainers make to them. It’s no wonder that a good percent of contestants quickly go back to their starting weight once the show finishes. Nothing good comes from losing weight THAT quickly, their poor god damn bodies.

16 Littlepetal { 03.20.13 at 10:33 pm }

Glad you did well with Excess Baggage but not Ajay. I just saw some photos of hers in the latest gossip mags and she has piled on heaps. Much worse than when she started on EB.

Ajay is a bad example to people who want to lose weight.

17 Nate { 03.20.13 at 10:36 pm }

No worries Bron. Excess should have been given a better chance, it really was realistic in its aims and it had some great healthy living tips at were achievable for people at home. I guess it just couldn’t find an audience and adding “celebrities” was a poor idea. If it was just 16 ordinary contestants I think it would have done a lot better.

I can understand putting kids through an Excess Baggage type transformation, but subjecting them to Biggest Loser?

Their parents are dealing with emotional baggage as well and by focusing on their kids they really are not getting to the root of why they are heavy in the first place. I really can’t see this as a win for either parent or kid

18 Nate { 03.20.13 at 11:07 pm }

Petal, Once you learn a bit more about her past it is understandable that she needs a bit more help than others. I won’t speak ill of her. If she was able to overcome her demons then the weight would come off.

People do not become overweight simply through lack of exercise and eating bad food. There is an ongoing psychological aspect that can weigh more heavily for them.

I think in a lot of ways Ajay represents that an overweight person can have all the knowledge on what they need to do, but something is holding them back emotionally. In that way, Ajay represents a lot of people who struggle with their weight. It should be clear when you really think about it that their is a little bit of Ajay in every person who has struggled with their weight.

Ajay was always honest, upfront and kind hearted when we spent time together and it is that side of Ajay that I wish more people understood.

It is easy to sit back and say she is a bad role model when it comes to weightloss when you see her pics in the gossip mags, but to achieve what she did on EB under the pressure she was under I beleive she was a worthwhile winner. Anyone of lesser heart and mental strength would have thrown in the towel much earlier in the competition when it became very ugly.

We were 16 people dealing with emotional issues as well as physical ones, and she was under more emotional strain then anyone out there.

Which ties this all back to Biggest Loser. They can train these kids all day long, but without the proper mind set, training, and therapy to find out why these people are overweight in the first place it will come crashing down.

19 Littlepetal { 03.20.13 at 11:11 pm }

Thanks for explaining,Nate.

20 nate { 03.20.13 at 11:28 pm }

Hope I dont come off as a know it all.. just my personal thoughts on the whole thing hehe

Nate

21 Amy { 03.21.13 at 8:29 am }

Of course, this is based on the US version of the show but it was really eye-opening.

http://www.bodylovewellness.com/2010/06/09/kai-hibbard-biggest-loser-finalist-part-1-of-3/

22 Veronica { 03.21.13 at 9:48 am }

Horrified but not surprised. Thanks for the link Amy.

23 Daisy { 03.21.13 at 12:28 pm }

I don’t watch the show but I enjoyed reading all the comments here.

24 Joseph Skyrim { 03.21.13 at 4:35 pm }

@Lebay (9) – good stuff. Sounds like those kids just need better manners then.
@AP (12) – “No one should exercise to the point of collapsing or vomiting surely?” No one should be -forced- past that point but it really depends on the person and their motivation. It’s a really interesting mind over matter thing I’ve found…

My instructors had a good grasp of how much I could handle, and usually my brain gives up before my body actually needs to so they would push me and I would be surprised that I could still move at some points. Then there are people like my eldest brother. They don’t frigging quit. Through cramps and broken toes he still trains / plays badminton / ballroom dances / goes to personal training. o.o

As an experiment he ate only one choc mud cake for one week (exclusively) just to prove he could still lose weight despite that. Crazy crazy man.

25 Helen { 03.22.13 at 11:37 pm }

I think this show is inspirational. The way we (Aussies) are going, we will all end up as big as these contestants if we continue to live the way we do so sometimes shows like these are good for us. It is bullying to an extent but it sure gets the weight off. I don’t like many Reality TV programs because they are fake, or scripted but you can’t fake actual weight loss. (some segment are OTT with ‘bad food’ and the trainers can be a bit obsessive. These people do it tough and I admire them for it.

26 Littlepetal { 03.23.13 at 8:46 am }

You can fake and manipulate those weight loss. Don’t believe what you see on TV.

Trainers can be tough and push the contestants to work harder but not when their bodies can’t handle that kind of training and causes injuries.

Usually after a few weeks, you can see many of them with braces and some have other injuries with overtraining.

27 A.P { 03.24.13 at 8:22 am }

Just read on the Telegraph website about the newest contestant, the heaviest ever, a 27 year old guy appearing with his mother. The amount of food he eats is staggering.
Will be interesting to see how he goes and hope it works for him.