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Does 'The Biggest Loser' Hurt or Help Obese People?

Study: The Popular Reality TV Show May Reinforce Anti-Fat Attitudes
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 18, 2012 -- Losing weight and entertaining people at the same time seems like a win-win situation. But such might not be the case for the reality show The Biggest Loser.

Watching reality TV game show contestants sweat, strain, and diet their way to big weight loss may actually lead viewers, especially thin viewers, to more harshly judge all overweight people, a new study shows.

Researchers think the reason is that the show appears to do a good job of convincing us that body weight is entirely within a person’s control.

That sets up the idea that if show contestants can shrink dramatically, everyone should be able to.

The problem with that notion, experts say, is that it just isn’t true.

“The real reality is that significant, sustainable weight loss is not achievable for most people,” says Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in an email to WebMD.

“We know that the most that we can really expect people to lose and keep off over time from conventional weight loss programs is about 10% of body weight,” says Puhl, who studies weight bias, but was not involved in the current research.

“Of course, some people lose more than that, but the vast majority regains that weight within one to five years. We also see this happening on the show -- when people leave the show, many regain the weight back,” she says.

A spokeswoman for NBC, the network that produces “The Biggest Loser,” declined to comment on the study.

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