A senior University of Adelaide medical researcher says reality TV show The Biggest Loser is demeaning and counter-productive in the fight against Australia’s obesity epidemic.
Professor Garry Wittert said today he had complained to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) last year, but his concerns had gone unanswered.
Wittert, Director of the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health and Head of the Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, is also chairperson of the Weight Management Council of Australia, which last year made a written complaint to ACMA.
He has raised concerns about previous series of the show, including in InDaily last year.
He said in a recent episode of the current season of The Biggest Loser “competitors were reported to have collapsed and vomited while attempting to scale 10,000 stairs during a task called ‘The Punisher’ at the Sydney Opera House”.
“The Biggest Loser is a crass attempt to make entertainment of a serious problem, by enticing desperate people to participate, putting them through a gruelling and unrealistic regime of exercise and diet, and exposing them to public ridicule because of their weight,” he said.
“There is no academic, artistic or scientific purpose behind this show. The participants are subject to tactics that induce guilt, shame and fear. A reasonable person would easily form the view that the contestants are demeaned and exploited.”
Wittert said the series “promotes the expectation that very large weight loss in a short period of time is achievable and desirable”.
“Since this is clearly not the case, it is misleading. It may also lead to physical harm if individuals try to emulate it and even partially succeed, and potentially to psychological harm if they can’t.
“There’s nothing healthy about exercising until you vomit and collapse.”
Wittert also raised concerns about public ridicule of contestants, “especially on social media”.
“You only need to look at the Twitter feed to see what people enjoy most about this show – the opportunity to have a laugh at other people’s expense,” he said.
“Stereotypes about overweight and obese people have resulted in pervasive levels of discrimination in our community. My concern is that these messages will do little except increase the stigmatisation and levels of despair experienced by those who need genuine help.”
Network Ten, which broadcasts the show, responded by saying that the well-being of contestants was their “number one priority”.
“Network Ten and Shine Australia (the producer of The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia) take the duty of care we have towards all contestants very seriously,” a network spokesperson said.
“To that end, all contestants work with highly qualified nutritionists, psychologists and other medical staff as well of course our long standing professional trainers.
“The well-being of contestants always has been and remains our number one priority.
“The Biggest Loser has a long history of helping people – both contestants and viewers – address their weight issues and helps them to lead healthier lives.”
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