Weight Loss Difficult Due To Negative Views In Media
October 26, 2012

Weight Loss Difficult Due To Negative Views In Media

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Overweight individuals are being shouted at and berated by svelte trainers and bulked up athletes. Females fall face first on the ground after hours and hours of strenuous exercise. Looks of misery can be seen on a man´s face as he is denied a tasty morsel and forced to stick with a strict diet. These are just a few scenes from The Biggest Loser, a television show that aims to help overweight and obese individuals drop the pounds.

While the show has big ratings and has helped people on the show be more active, the weight loss program may not have had the positive effect it was hoping for—a new study from the University of Alberta found that, rather than inspiring people to get off the couch and get fit, the program turns people off.

In the study, scientists from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta examined the effects that a short video clip of The Biggest Loser had on audience members. They were interested in finding out about the negative attitudes viewers may have. The study highlights the various perspectives of physical activity in mainstream media.

"The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative," explained the study´s lead author Tanya Berry, who serves as Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion, in a press release. "People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you're not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is–that it's this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the extremes and the limits, which is completely wrong."

138 undergraduate students participated in the University of Alberta study. They were split into two groups, with one group watching a seven-minute segment from the ninth season of The Biggest Loser, while the other group viewed a clip from the singing reality show American Idol. The participants were then asked to write their thoughts on the clip from either segment immediately following the viewing. The students also had to take a computer test that determined their automatic attitudes toward exercise as well as completed a hand-written questionnaire.

"We did find that the people who watched The Biggest Loser had worse attitudes about physical activity than those who watched the American Idol clip," continued Berry in the statement.

With the findings of the study, it is possible that reality shows like The Biggest Loser are not as inspirational as previously thought. The shows can have a reverse effect, causing physical activity to be viewed negatively. As such, they can run against the goals of various public health campaigns.

"There's a lot of effort and good work out there just to get people more active, but it's such a small voice in this big wash of different depictions of exercise. It's a big mess,” concluded Berry in the statement.

In moving forward with the study, the researchers are interested in conducting a study on the follow-up episodes of The Biggest Loser. In these episodes, viewers have the opportunity to watch participants who have lost weight, enjoy exercise, and are more physically fit.

The findings of the current study will be published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.