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New Study Reveals ‘The Biggest Loser’ Fuels Negative Attitudes About Fitness

I’ve watched “The Biggest Loser” on several occasions, and I always thought it was decent enough inspiration for regular folks to get off the couch and get in shape. Watching an obese woman run at speed 10.00 on the treadmill — I did this in 30 second spurts at the gym today and it was intense – for several minutes is enough to make even the most barely overweight dude want to try some kind of workout regimen.

What it means

“The Biggest Loser” is a positive way to get overweight, out of shape people inspired to work out, right? Fat chance. According to a new study to be published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, “The Biggest Loser” has a negative impact on fueling interest in fitness.

Researchers at the University of Alberta split a group of undergraduate students into two groups. They had one group a seven-minute clip from “The Biggest Loser,” featuring overweight people participating in grueling exercise routines. They had the control group watch a clip from “American Idol.” The research team then asked each student to write down his or her first five thoughts immediately after viewing the clips and to take a computer test measuring their attitudes about exercise.

The results of the study revealed that those who watched the short clip from “The Biggest Loser” had a negative attitude toward exercise. This runs counter to the belief that shows like “The Biggest Loser” actually inspire fat people to get fit (Hell, I thought it did.)

Tanya Berry, one of the University of Alberta researchers, found that shows that depict exercise in a negative way (overly intense workouts, screaming, panting, etc.) actually make people less inclined to work out. “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.”

But some of the obese folks on “The Biggest Loser” lose a lot of weight and become real fit. Wouldn’t that serve as inspiration to people who look and live just like the people on the show? Well, ask someone who doesn’t work out to sprint on a treadmill with someone screaming at you the whole time and see if they’re into it. The contestants on “The Biggest Loser” lose so much weight because they take place in grueling exercise routines on a daily basis. They’re under intense pressure from the trainers, teammates, and that whole audience of millions watching.

I know if I was someone who didn’t work out and who was out of shape, how the exercises depicted on “The Biggest Loser” might turn me off. If walking on the treadmill or lifting a five-pound weight is something I’m not even used to, seeing this show and thinking this is “normal exercise” might scare me off forever.

If you’re an exercise noob and want to get fit, you might want to steer clear of “The Biggest Loser.” Start off slow, ease into it, and you’re sure to get there someday. Besides, less time watching “The Biggest Loser” is more time for “Mad Men” reruns.

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About John Brhel John Brhel is a freelance writer from upstate New York that enjoys picking apart life's idiosyncrasies and listening to Huey Lewis & the News.

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