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Fifteen Minutes of Fat Fame

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Posted by Cags R on 2 March 2012 at 10:53 AM

Earlier this week @majicmonkey surfaced a photo which is a more commonplace image in the media than that of amateur sporting events or the celebration of exercise.

Still slightly amused by the discussion surrounding Nick's picture, on Tuesday night I turned the TV and watched Supersize VS Superskinny, the diet show which swaps the eating habits of chronic under-eaters and chronic over-eaters to shock their systems into recognising their own diet's ridiculousness. At the end of the 1 week feeding clinic both participants are presented with eating plans which will encourage sustainable weight loss for the overweight participant and weight gain for the superskinny participant. 

'Good for them' I thought when after 2 months the fast food junkie had shed 3 stone and the caffeine guzzling superskinny had changed her ways and gained 7lbs.

To my surprise following the show on another channel there was the show The Biggest Loser which pits a group of obese participants against one another to lose the most weight in 3 months. Each week a participant leaves the show following the ITV standard elimination style which works so well with X Factor - this is arguably the least healthy concept for these participants suffering from extremely low self-esteem to start with but, hey, it's all entertainment, right?


It was at this point when I picked up the TV guide to do a quick scan of how many hours a week one could spend watching shows of people suffering from varying degrees of obesity go through this miracle transformation. Half Ton Mum, Half Ton Dad, Half Ton Son, Half Ton Dad - they were really running low on titles here - World's Biggest Boy, Obese: A Year to Save my Life, Accused: The 74 stone babysitter, The Fat Fighters, Embarrassing Fat Bodies, Fat March USA and Fat Plague are just a handful of the shows which focus on obesity.

Participants of these shows are freqently stripped down to their underwear or less to reveal the shocking mass clothes conceal, their clothes and dignity having been stripped away they are introduced to the show's personal trainer/nutritionist/surgeon and the results speak for themselves! After they have trained/starved/cut away a percentage of their fat, the show's then give them a make over and surround them with cries of 'oh-babe-you-look-gorrrrrrrrrgeous'.


Not only do some of these shows seem to remove personal responsibility from morbidly obese persons, they frequently promote unsustainable results (having removed the participants from their homelife and work environments) and the concept that these people could not manage the changes without the aid of the TV shows. The selection of the participants make the average viewer at home (overweight or not) feel tiny in comparison and thus does not encourage activity from the viewer, merely judgement and the well churned out phrase of 'how do they let themselves get like that?'

The most shocking part of these shows for me were the overweight relatives surrounding these supersizers who are clearly on their way to obesity but are overshadowed (literally) by their morbidly obese relation. It seems that there is a threshold in the eyes of the media that means that unless your BMI is over 50% then you're simply not fat enough to bother with. 

Our society shies away from addressing the issue of being mildly overweight as our perception of the term 'obesity' is increasingly being made synonymous with 'morbid obesity'; thus our perception of 'normal' is getting larger and larger.

I have to admit the Supersize VS Superskinny does provide a more rounded show than some of its competitors - it highlights the dangers of under-eating and eating-disorders as well as the health risks attached to obesity.

The exhibition of obesity and eating disorders as the modern freakshow (the bearded women having now been put out of work) makes entertainment out of our society's biggest cost to the NHS since World War 2. 

So who should be shouldering this responsibility? Do the shows simply sensationalize obesity? Is there a right way to tackle the epidemic that is not only sweeping the UK but has already rooted itself in American culture too?

Have your say.

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    Comments

    20140430114017-rosek

    I find this all bizarrely fascinating. Having gone from the Fashion industry to the sports world I have never really met anyone that doesn't at least have a vague grasp on what they put into their mouth or how they treat their body. How are so many people getting it so wrong???

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    20131126112258-adrian

    when are they going to bring out a super-skinny vs. super skinny vs. super-strong? I'd find that really interesting. Don't agree on the point that "health" and "fitness" doesnt get enough exposure in the media, it gets a fair amount, the only thing about it is that the information they usually surface is totally outdated or just plain misguided itself

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    20140811112945-cags

    I think health and fitness have the wrong type of exposure in the press it's all 'you've got into awful shape, let's try and fix that' rather than 'this will maintain your health in a sustainable fashion'

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    20140811112945-cags

    The episode of the Biggest Loser on Tuesday showed that one of the contestants was pretty much only there for the prize money - when told she had the chance of being a runner up she was having none of it! You have to wonder at fact that the improvement in her health (over 3 stone lost in 2 months) was overshadowed by her disappointment that she didn't win the money!

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    20130424084302-barry

    I think that - as so often occurs in such debates - two very different issues are being merged here. There is an enormous (excuse the pun) difference between someone who is overweight through lack of effort and someone who is overweight through psychological or physiological problems. I've always been hugely cynical about those who say 'I just can't stop gaining weight' whilst eating a bag of Monster Munch, but at the same time there is clearly a line that some obese people stand over, which is where eating and obesity is no longer a matter of 'laziness', but a genuine mental health issue. Merging the two is dangerous. Shows like Biggest Loser thrive on the 'lazy' sort. But it's easy to say that someone with mental health issues is lazy when they are not. I often think more could be done to tackle obesity if we move away from a focus on diet and exercise (which is what these shock-TV shows do) and instead turn to a mental health angle, and look at why fat people eat so much and do so little exercise. What has society done to create a framework in which apathy is so appetising? Why are we always 'can't' when we should be 'can do'?

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    20160104165307-neil

    @barry I think you're conflating 'apathy' with 'lazy' in your question at the end. People don't choose to be apathetic. It's a symptom. Being lazy, other than hand, is an active or passive decision. You can have apathetic slackers, but not all slackers are apathetic.

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    20120628093801-eoin

    On the Biggest Loser, some of the contestants actually eat and drink *more* right before the first weigh in, so that they can be seen to lose a lot after the first week! Also, as has been mentioned, they are deprived of family contact and are *forced* into exercising 4 hours (or more) a day for weeks. They aren't used to this! We have a TV show in Ireland called Operation Transformation (http://www.rte.ie/ot/). It takes 5 people who need to lose weight and brings them on the show. They are called "Leaders", which in itself is good. People can follow the leader they choose and these Leaders stay at their own home and live with their family for the duration. Each week the Leaders go into the studio and get weighed. Their target weight loss is never more than 3lbs per week (also good). No Leader gets voted off, they all stay to the end and they are all winners. There's also a Psychologist they meet weekly along with a fitness person and nutritionist. Excellent show! I totally agree that education is paramount from an early age.

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    20160104165307-neil

    I'm so very glad I don't have a TV if there are all these let's-humiliate-fat-people programmes. That's just not the right way to deal with the obesity problem. Educating people of all ages is the key here. Using humiliation or scare tactics won't work because we're all desensitised to such things. A bit of knowledge, empathy, support, and a healthy dose of motivation can work wonders.

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    20140811112945-cags

    That show sounds far healthier than Biggest loser @eoin! I think Jamie Oliver's work on improving school dinners was a great step towards getting schools more health-food conscious (though I do remember being gutted that they took the Coke vending machine away from my high school!) I saw 'Kids Specials' in weight loss shows and it was amazing to see that so much of the children's bad diet was due to their parents not being able to cook! I remember food-tech at school being thought of as a soft subject but perhaps a re-branding scheme to something like 'Nutrition and Health' would be beneficial. I'm lucky because my mum's an awesome cook and used to show us how to do stuff as we grew up but my housemate at uni didn't even know how to boil pasta!

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    20141122134757-majicmonkey

    I have never seen any of these TV programmes, amazing, and I thought reality TV focused on celebrities, past, present or future being isolated from the rest of society for a period of time while the nation spent a fortune on premium rate telephone calls voting for the popular ones to stay, go or do something bizarre. The original discussion between Cags, Neil and I was prompted by an article I had read on Britain’s fattest man and woman, between them weighing a staggering 104 stone. What had provoked my interest was the statistics being quoted; the cost in social welfare and resources to maintain these two people being over £650k to date, that there are more obese people on the planet than malnourished people, that over 58% of the population of the UK is obese and finally the fact that the guy felt he was as entitled to as much medical care and attention as an injured climber. He has 18 health workers looking after him, is house bound accept for when he goes to hospital with the help of 8 paramedics and a specially converted ambulance. People are obese because they eat too much. There is no other way to get obese. If you eat a well balanced nourish diet commensurate with your lifestyle activities you will not get fat. If you eat a shed load of crap food continually all day long while you sit on your arse you will get fat. I accept that some eating disorders are a result of an underling mental health condition. But the bigger problem has nothing to do with mental health, unless you truly believe that 58% of the population of the UK are mentally disturbed, which is a possibility based on the number of reality TV shows. The issue is one of pure laziness, physical and mental – why shop for healthy food and learn how to cook creative recipes when I can have processed fat, salt and sugar disguised as food delivered to my door thus giving me more time to sit, watch TV and drink. But I would like to move the debate onto the point raised by 58 stone man . Does he have a point? as he gets carted into his specially adapted ambulance, haven eaten his 30,000 cal ration of food for the day. Do climbers take the same risk with their lives as obese people. Are climbers similarly irresponsible? Are they the same? And is he entitled to the same level of care, assistance and respect as an injured climber?

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    20140811112945-cags

    I suppose he makes an interesting point - climbing puts you in an unnecessarily dangerous situation - if we wanted to live a boring, bubble-wrapped life (with excess health and safety risk assessments) then climbing would be a bad choice. However what is important is that there is a benefit to climbing - it improves your fitness though there is a risk of falling. I suppose the difference is that that risk is immediate - fall, break leg, 6 weeks in caster,get back on the climbing wall within 4 months - whereas obesity is gradual, the risks also onset gradually, heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes won't happen over night and so they ignore the problem. I think a more fair comparison would have with chain smokers, another slow process to an early grave.

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    20160104165307-neil

    Climbers and obese people do NOT take the same risks. One takes carefully considered risks with their own safety being of paramount importance. The other dangerously, recklessly, and wholly unnecessarily risks their life for no good reason. Climbing is far less dangerous than, say, crossing a road. Climbers take safety extremely seriously and would never set off on a route that, should they persist with, would end in certain death. You can't say the same about obese people. Let's not beat around the bush: over-eating, no matter the cause, is SERIOUS PHYSICAL ABUSE.

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    20160104165307-neil

    @cags The risk of taking a climbing fall that results in serious injury that warrants the same level of medical care as required by a chronically obese person is incredibly small.

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    20140430114017-rosek

    One of my favourite games is in the supermarket, look at what is in peoples trolly then look at the person pushing it..... If it is mainly the content of the frozen aisle, chances are that the pusher is overweight and unhealthy. When a trolly is full of organic veg, meat and rice then you have a much more attractive specimen driving said trolly. I have also noticed that there is, most of the time, a newspaper in the healthier trolly which suggests to me that they are more educated?? Anyway, when/if I have children they are going to be taught from day 1 about healthy food, made to take exercise and take an enthusiastic approach to life. Now.... there is chocolate buttons in the office so I must go and indulge ;-)

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    20140811112945-cags

    @neil in no way am I agreeing with him! It's more a matter of with our National Health Service we cannot discriminate - all gets a little Animal Farm that way 'all animals are equal - but some are more equal than other': the pigs in animal farm may be a little close to the bone in the obesity debate!

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    20160104165307-neil

    @cags State intervention may be required but the first step should be targeting the junk food producers and making it less economically viable to continue peddling their rubbish. They are the drug traffickers of the food industry.

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    20140811112945-cags

    Going back to the original debate on @majicmonkey's profile - there was an amazing point made that if there were a taxation on junk/heavily processed food then the revenue could go into supplementing the more expensive but healthier fresh food options

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    20141122134757-majicmonkey

    With 58% of the population obese there is frankly no alternative other than state intervention. Through education and taxation. Remove the crap from the food chain by heavy taxation. (in Ireland a few years ago, to combat the problem of non biodegradable plastic bags littering the streets and country side, the government introduced a tax on plastic bags – overnight the problem was solved- disproportional taxation to eradicate a problem works), or simply make it illegal. The population then need to be educated on how to live a healthy life. The burden on the NHS will be reduced enormously. As for the 58 Stone man and his selfish attitude – if he hadn’t brought climbers into the debate I would have been happy to let him eat himself to death as he squeezed in the last wafer thin mint. But he drew a comparison that is unjust and as @neil has pointed out, climbers consider the risk and take the necessary precautions. Well that is that problem solved

    Neil C and Joanna R encouraged this.

    20130326103614-januaryjo

    These TV shows that sensationalize all forms of human behavior at the lowest common denominator from hoarding, to weight issues, to fame junkies are not entertainment. Don't watch them, then they won't make money and they will go away.

    Kat S and Kirstie M encouraged this.

    20140430114017-rosek

    @januaryjo Good point!! Don't sit on your bum watching crap tv, get out and complete some challenges!!!!

    Joanna R encouraged this.

    20120609111406-kirstiem

    Another factor in the vastly overweight persons life is that if they are bed-bound and are being fed why are their carers feeding them so much? I have to confess to having been one of the great unwashed up until a few years ago. I have reoccuring vertigo which makes exercising practically impossible, and while suffering at home on the settee watching daytime TV I caught an episode of biggest loser. What was being said by the trainers to the inmates really resonated with me, and made me realise that I was ultimately responsible for my weight and level of fitness. If these people could put themselves through this effort then I flipping well could too. So I did. While I agree that now there is much too much made of obesity as entertainment in the media I'm not sure that I'd have had that durr moment without it. I can't be the only one affected like that. What I would like to see is some responsiblilty by the cooking shows and magazines. I love cooking and spend a fair amount of time trying to find different meals to cook for my family. I subscribe to Good Food magazine and they run a regular feature of a menu put together by TV chef. If I were to follow the menu for the 3 courses suggested by the December issue I would be consuming around 5000 calories in a single meal! There are so many cooking shows on - more I would say than the fat shows being discussed. How many of these shows even mention healthy eating? Very very few, and certainly none of the ones fronted by restaurant chefs - all that butter salt and cream may taste wonderful and may be ok for an odd treat but not for every day. And with a generation unable to cook, there is a generation out there unable to make the healthy adjustments that are possible to make lighter versions of the dishes on offer.

    Nick B and Joanna R encouraged this.

    20140811112945-cags

    Great point Kirstie - it would be interesting if they were to attach a rough calorie guide to the meals they're demonstrating or like the Sainsbury's pie chart of what's in it to put the meals in perspective. Do you feel Biggest Loser is the reason for you turn around @kirstiem?

    Nick B encouraged this.

    20120609111406-kirstiem

    I think its a huge factor, yes. Without getting into a lot of stuff, I'd come out of a terrible marriage with a dreadful self image, and far too much weight to be healthy. I'd met a great guy who was (is) keen on exercise and I'd started to get my head out of a bad place. What I hadn't managed to do was work out that if my heart was pounding out of my chest I wasn't going to drop dead and that's what I got from biggest loser. There are already calorie guides and nutritional break downs on recipes in magazines - but they are in teeny tiny writing that is easy to miss. What I would prefer to see is a guide on how to make basic changes to that recipe to make it healthier - for instance how to use low fat yogurt or creme fraiche instead of cream or the difference that using stock instead of wine would make. I'd also like to see some sort of calorie break down for TV recipes - something like the Sainsbury pie chart could come up on screen perhaps?

    Nick B and Joanna R encouraged this.

    20140811112945-cags

    Watched Horizon on the BBC last night and it was an obesity focus, it went into the science of obesity and revealed that the hormones which control hunger and feeding-satisfaction in obese patients stay at a steady level throughout the day whereas a patient with a healthy weight will have their hunger initiated and stopped with these hormones. The show showed examples of identical twins with the same upbringing where one had become obese in later life, showing that it is not simply a nature vs. nurture argument, like with any hormones the release of the hunger hormones is effected by stress levels. Was a very interesting watch!

    20141122134757-majicmonkey

    I didn’t see the programme, but it does raise an interesting point. Presumably some form of hormone therapy could correct the disorder? Was that discussed @cags? There was an article earlier in the week about a woman wishing to become the fattest woman in the world. Currently weighing in at 54 stone she needed to get to 115 stone – she found herself a chef for a partner. He likes to cook and she likes to eat – a match made in heaven. All I could muster as a reaction was ‘WHY’?

    Joanna R encouraged this.

    20140811112945-cags

    It was more showing that there are physiological reasons for obesity, I assumed they would progress to saying that hormone treatment would help control obesity but it didn't really go into it (annoying not to see a cure but being shown a cause). There was also a section on gastric bypasses and the psychological changes they have on patients. I think I should have paid closer attention (I was hoovering up some homemade pizza at the time!). In regard to the fattest woman in the world @majicmonkey I think she just needs some Tribesports Challenges to get a sense of achievement rather than just striving towards an early grave. Sad for her really.

    Joanna R encouraged this.

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