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Why we watch The Biggest Loser and Excess Baggage: the appeal of weight loss rehab

Friday 3 February, 2012 by Bek

It's almost a Dilbert cartoon when you think about it; loungeroom couches are groaning under the weight of Australians watching other overweight people sweating it out on TV.

Perhaps it's no surprise that weight loss shows such as The Biggest Loser and Excess Baggage are so popular. More than 60 percent of the Australian population is overweight or obese. Victorian figures released last weekend show an even more worrying trend - whilst the percentage of those overweight remained constant during the past seven years, the number of Victorians who are obese increased over the period. More than one in six (17.2%) Victorians is now obese. This figure is likely to be much higher as the stats are based on self-reporting and it is noted by the report's authors that people often underestimate their weight and overestimate their height when asked - believe me, I'm 5'8, not 5'7 and a half

But are people watching these shows to motivate themselves and glean weight loss tips or to watch the spectacle of an out-of-shape Dipper, chunked up K-Fed, or expanded Kate DeAraugo jogging along a beach?  It's possibly the latter if you consider that 80% of the 7500 adults surveyed in the Vic report declared themselves to be in excellent, very good or good health. Hey, this isn't a spare tyre, it's just my muscles relaxing. Feel this, no wait til I flex, see I told you I'm like a rock.

For those, for fall into the first basket (motivation and weight loss tips), how useful are these competitive weight loss shows really?

Jane Martin, our colleague at the Obesity Policy Coalition, says that these shows are effective in highlighting something we all know but would prefer to ignore; losing weight requires eating less and exercising more. She does also point out that the contestants are lucky, they're in a form of ‘weight loss rehab' in that they're removed from the real world, which makes it much easier to avoid temptation - except of course for the occasional lavishly stage-managed buffet of sugar.

In the real world, we're being bombarded by advertisements and marketing for highly processed foods from just about every direction - on TV (even possibly during our favourite weight loss show), online, at the supermarket, the train station, even at the gym. There's so much about our environment which doesn't encourage healthy eating. The price and availability of fresh food, the density of fast food outlets, even the location of that vending machine at the entrance to the change rooms at the swimming pool or in the stairwell at work. The Vic survey illustrated how poor our diets have become. Less than one in 10 Victorians ate the recommended five serves of vegetables a day.  We also don't have someone dragging us out of bed to scale the Kimberley or haul the QE2 into shore with our bare hands and a rope. 

What do you think about these weight loss shows? What would you improve about the environment to make it easier to eat healthily and exercise more?

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