5 Experts on “The Biggest Loser”

Welcome to the Off the Clock where we ask bariatric experts a question about their own lives and thoughts.

The TV show The Biggest Loser has turned the battle with obesity into a reality show. With the US entering its 14th season, and more than 20 other regions of the world with their own versions of The Biggest Loser, the show has received significant attention. Since obesity is such a national concern, is Biggest Loser a positive influence, or does it send the wrong message? We asked doctors who fight obesity every day to give us their personal thoughts on the show.

Today we ask: “What do you think of The Biggest Loser?”

“It perpetuates false negative stereotypes. This is the same reason that as an American of Italian descent who grew up in New Jersey, I have never watched an episode of Jersey shore. At the root of it, the show’s underlying message is that if the obese were just motivated enough they could all do it, they just need to be yelled at and humiliated a bit more. Obesity is not a disease of inadequate motivation. There is something unseemly about peaking into someone else’s misery. I wonder if we would feel as OK with a show that parades people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and has the infusion nurses yelling and berating the patients to push through the nausea.”
Dr. Mark Fusco, Florida

“Since I have operated on a past Biggest Loser semi-finalist, it is best to quote them: ‘you can’t live that way’. Taking someone out of their home, their job, their daily stress, putting them on a restricted diet, and working out does not teach life long skills. In fact, it teaches the opposite: it teaches that you can’t do this unless you separate yourself from everything. The record for Biggest Loser is also clear – doesn’t provide long-term results.”
Dr. Terry Simpson, Arizona

“The Biggest Loser is another unrealistic ‘reality’ show. The fact that people who suffer from obesity can lose large amounts of weight rapidly is nothing new. We evaluate patients every day who have achieved massive weight loss in the past, often on multiple occasions, only to regain the weight. Their propensity to be overweight is inherent and only permanently addressed with the anatomical changes that surgery offers. In medicine, we practice evidence-based treatments.
Medicine has nothing to do with television ratings.
Dr. Laura Machado, Sacramento

“Recently the medical director of The Biggest Loser announced people could exercise moderately for 4 hours per day and eat a moderately low calorie diet (1200 – 1800 kcal/day) and get weight loss results and disease resolution better than a gastric bypass patient. First, from watching the show, the exercise looks to be much more than “moderate” in intensity. The skeletal structures of most morbidly obese people could not withstand this level of exercise. Second, very few people in America have 4 hours per day to exercise moderately or any other intensity. We all have families, jobs, and other responsibilities. Most significantly overweight people can lose weight, in fact they can lose a large amount of weight… but the overwhelming majority can’t keep it off for a two year period. A very interesting report would be made of the two year follow up once the Biggest Loser contestants went back to their homes, jobs and real life.
Dr. Greg Walton, Oklahoma

“As a physician dedicated to helping people win their battles with obesity, using legitimate interventions, healthy support and positive advice, I find it appalling that a TV show that belittles obese people is so popular. Why would we tolerate this?! Would we send our child, if they were struggling in school, to a camp called the “Smartest Idiot??” Of course not – so why would society find it acceptable to gawk at severely overweight people that want nothing more than to be healthy?”
Dr. Brian Quebbemann Newport Beach

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Or check out the previous edition of Off the Clock – 10 Experts, 10 Choices: How I Help My Kids be Healthy

by Emma Squillace