Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The first lady in the biggest loser

In case some of you didn't hear about the re-appearance of first lady Michelle Obama in the biggest loser, this blog will shed the lights on this news. Yes, I did say re-appearance because the first lady did appear in that show back in April 2013 as part of her "Let's move" campaign.
Now before starting to talk about my opinion regarding Mrs.Obama appearing on the biggest loser, I would like to give my opinion about the show itself, and about the first lady's health and wellness initiatives.

I watched the first season of the biggest loser when I was 14 years old, this was my first intorduction to weight management and obesity. At that time, I had very little knowledge about nutrition, health and wellness. I viewed the contestants highly and I thought that they were inspirational to anyone who wanted to lose weight and live a healthier life. I knew that their caloric intake was very restricted and that they over-exercised, but I thought that that was the way to go in order to lose weight (eliminate junk and workout till you drop). The show also made me think of the "before" of each contestant as lazy, lousy, unmotivated, and unbehaved; therefore the before was not a "socially accepted" figure. The "after", on the other hand, was idealitic, successful, inspirational, and super motivatational; everyone was supposed to follow these "after" figures. So my naive, not fully developed, young brain thought, at the time that:
- If you are overweight or obese, it is ON YOU because you are just lazy.
- You are superior in terms of self-control and health when you are at a healthy weight.
- You need to cut out all the junk and engage in long and vigorous physical activity in order to lose weight healthfully.

 At the time, I had as much nutrition education as the average North American. I didn't know what research has shown when it comes to over-exercising/under-eating. But now, I am an RD and I am fully aware of the consequences of promoting such behavior, here are just a few:
-A drop in metabolic rate, which leads to weight gain in the long term.
-Weight rebound which is caused by both drop in metabolic rate as well as unsustainability of the extreme weight loss techniques used in the show.
-Symptoms of eating disorders experienced by some contestants.
-Stigmatization and descrimination of overweight/obese individuals
And to add a cherry on the sundae, research has shown that this kind of shows does not motivate viewers to change their behavior towards a healthier lifestyle.

Now, that I have shared my view of the show, I will talk about Mrs.Obama's intiatives. I honestly am happy with all the amazing things that the first lady has been doing to promote a healthier lifestyle in the United States. She has been implemting fantastic campaigns such as "My Plate" which provides americans with a visual respresentation as to what their meals should look like and the "let's move" campaign which encourages a more active lifestyle. She also has worked on many handy tools and recipes to promote health and nutrition. Therefore, I do not intend to disregard or forget all the efforts that she has been putting to help the nation towards a healthier lifestyle.

What really bothers me is that Mrs.Obama's messages have always portrayed in a positive way, we see colours, smiley faces and lots of love; this gives us a positive attitude towards healthy eating and physical activity. The biggest loser does the total opposite; people are suffering, some are vomiting from over-exercising, and negative messages are sent to the public through the show.

By appearing in the biggest loser, the first lady would be using a negative motivational approach to health which was shown to result in a lower adherance to nutritional and health recommendations when compared to positive motivational strategies. So is the nation going to consume more water if Mrs.Obama promotes water consumption on the biggest loser? Are there going to be any negative consequences of this apperance? My answer is no to the former and yes to the latter... what do you think?


  1. Hello Ms Awwad, I have had concerns about the Biggest Loser show and how it might contribute to negative self esteme in overweight weight viewers, especially those who are low income and do not have the funds to join a gym or pay for a personal trainer to motivate them. And, I too have been impressed with what the First Lady has accomplished with the Let's Move Campaign, promotion of gardening, and healthy eating, as wll as her own personal fitness habits. It is because of the positive image that she has developed (and popularity) that I am not as worried about her appearance on the Biggest Loser program. I believe it is an opportunity to reach millions of people with the positve message of getting active and eating healthier, including drinking more water. She has been skillful in making people know how easy it is to "just do it", and I am hopeful that she will do the same despite the overall format of this show. I do recognize the risk, but I also see the opportunity as the show is so popular. It would be similar to appearing at a fast food restaurant and showing people how to make healthier choices (which I have also seen some health professionals do). The risk verses benefit may be a factor here which could make this a win-win for all (the show, the viewers, and Mrs. Obama).

  2. Thanks a lot Mrs.Greer for your response. I really appreciate that you weighed the risks and benefits in your comment. It is absoluetly correct that appreaing on a popular tv show such as the biggest loser is an excellent way of over-reaching. However, I worry that this apperance would give the show even more popularity and indirectly encourage the unhealthy practices portrayed in it.
    Regarding your comparaison to the promotion of healthier foods in fast food restaurants; I feel like there is a major difference here because when healthcare professionals promote grilled chicken in a "fried chicken restaurant", they are indirectly implying that the foods provided by that restaurant aren't the best choice. If Mrs.Obama says "you would need to consume water in order to replinish all the losses you have experienced during your ONE hour daily workout", then I would agree that she would be indirectly suggesting that the crazy FOUR hours workout isn't something that people should follow.
    I guess, it would really depend on the verbal and perhaps non-verbal messaged that would be portrayed in the promotional campaign. However, knowing the philosophy of the media and the industry, I doubt that the producers of the show would accept that messages that aren't in their best interest to be delivered through their show.