245201 Biggest Loser: A critical media analysis of obesity, weight loss & health in reality television

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: 12:30 PM

Natalie Diane Ingraham, MPH , Social and Behavior Sciences, School of Nursing, University of California- San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Shari Dworkin, PhD, MS , Social and Behavioral Sciences and Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Background: In addition to the proliferation of research and public discourse on the obesity epidemic, there is a burgeoning genre of television shows that seek to assist the US population with weight loss. Almost no critical media analyses have been carried out to assess the cultural and health ideologies put forward in these popular programs. One of the most popular new television programs in this genre is “The Biggest Loser” where contestants compete to lose the highest proportion of their body weight in a highly controlled environment. Methods: The current research project is a critical content analysis of the reality television show “The Biggest Loser.” We randomly sampled 20% of the available shows across a 2 year time period. A code book was formed, and independent reviewers coded the show content, participant interactions, and trainer-participant interactions. Findings: Our findings include a) assessment of the cultural and health assumptions built into the programming in terms of accuracies about weight loss and responsibility for obesity and b) critical analysis of what is excluded in the media frames of the show, underscoring the limitations of health and fitness messaging provided in the show. Conclusions: In our discussion, we consider the ways in which researchers can deploy critical media analysis to ensure the accuracy of health and fitness information. We also assess the ways in which neoliberal ideals of autonomy and individual responsibility mask the social and structural production of obesity.

Learning Areas:
Diversity and culture
Public health or related education
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Assess the ways in which one of the most popular weight loss television programs frame health and obesity. Critically assess the positive aspects and negative shortcomings of messages provided in reality television shows that purport to assist individuals with weight loss Understand what a neo-liberal framework is, how it is typically applied to health and weight loss, including an understanding of how such a framework influences the framing of weight loss as personal responsibility

Keywords: Obesity, Media

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to be an abstract author on the content I am responsible for because I have engaged in design of the project from its inception, as well as data collection and analysis. I also work closely with my advisor Dr Shari Dworkin (who is also an author) for methodological and content guidance
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.