Whatever the intentions of the producers, there is accumulating evidence that public display of weight loss as in competitions, challenges, and reality TV do little else than promote anti-weight bias by promoting stereotypes, unrealistic weight loss goals, and simplistic (diet and exercise) messages about possible solutions.
This notion is again supported by a recent study by Domoff and colleagues from Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA, published in OBESITY.
The researchers examined how exposure to 40-min of The Biggest Loser affected participants’ levels of weight bias amongst 59 participants (majority of whom were white females), who were randomly assigned to either an experimental (one episode of The Biggest Loser) or control (one episode of a nature reality show) condition.
Levels of weight bias as measured by the Implicit Associations Test (IAT), the Obese Person Trait Survey (OPTS), and the Anti-fat Attitudes scale (AFA) at baseline and following the episode viewing (1 week later), showed that viewers of The Biggest Loser had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals and more strongly believed that weight is controllable after the exposure.
Interestingly, amongst the participants, those who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition.
These results clearly indicate that anti-fat attitudes increase after brief exposure to weight-loss reality television, especially perhaps in people with lower BMI.
Given the impact that anti-weight bias has on all aspects of trying to find solutions to obesity (from public health messaging to funding for obesity research or treatments), not to mention its devastating emotional and physical impact on people living with excess weight, perhaps it is time to revisit social norms and acceptability of this form of entertainment.
These shows are not a solution – they are part of the problem!