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The Biggest Loser Turning People Away From Exercise: Study

Update Date: Oct 26, 2012 05:16 AM EDT

The Biggest Loser, a reality show that started in the U.S. in 2004, may have inspired many nations around the world to start their own variations of the show due to its high TV ratings, but the extreme depiction of exercise in the show is turning people away from exercising and staying fit, rather than inspiring them.

According to a new research from the University of Alberta, watching episodes of the show, where people are not just screaming and struggling, but also where participants are exercising in a do-or-die situation, is turning people away from exercising. Understandably, for someone who does not exercise regularly and is perhaps contemplating the same may get scared rather than getting motivated by the show.   

Researchers from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation say The Biggest Loser is fuelling negative attitudes in people toward exercise.

"The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative," said lead author Tanya Berry, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion. "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."

For the study, 138 undergraduate students from the University of Alberta were divided into two groups. While one group watched a seven-minute clip (with extreme depiction of exercise episodes from the early ninth season of the show when participants were struggling with obesity), the control group watched a segment from the reality show American Idol.

Soon after watching the clippings, the participants were asked to pen down their first five thoughts. Also, the students were asked to complete a computer test that measured their automatic attitudes toward exercise before they could think and answer the question, plus 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," said Berry, adding that the results were consistent, no matter the level of participants' physical activity or weight.

Berry said that this research negates the belief of many in the media that such kind of shows will motivate people to get off the couch. In fact, such negative portrayals of exercise are only challenging the efforts taken by 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."

Berry's research team is currently working on following up with the participants of the show who have lost weight, focusing on their physical fitness and how they are enjoying exercising. The results are expected to be published next year.

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