'The Biggest Loser' May Sour Viewers on Exercise, Study Finds

Expert says popular show is more daunting than motivating

TUESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- The reality TV show The Biggest Loser may discourage people from starting an exercise program, according to a new study.

In The Biggest Loser, overweight participants compete against one another to lose the most weight and claim a cash prize. Weight-loss methods include healthier eating and exercise.

But the process might appear unappealing.

"The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative," study lead author Tanya Berry, a physical-activity promotion expert at the University of Alberta, in Canada, said in a university news release.

"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," she said.

The study included 138 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. One group watched a seven-minute clip of extreme exercise from The Biggest Loser, while the other group watched a segment from the show American Idol.

Immediately after, all participants wrote down their first five thoughts and then completed a test and questionnaire meant to assess their attitudes about exercise.

"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," Berry said. The results were consistent regardless of participants' physical-activity levels or weight.

The results challenge a widely held belief that shows like The Biggest Loser can help motivate people to exercise and suggest that they may actually lead people to avoid exercise.

The study will be published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.

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