Michelle Obama: Don’t go on The Biggest Loser

Image Credit: The Soup TV

Dear Mrs. Michelle Obama,
I am a dietetic intern with Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina writing on the subject of your reappearance on the popular reality show, The Biggest Loser.
I understand the concern over adult and childhood obesity, and implementing effective strategies to combat it. However, The Biggest Loser is not an appropriate platform to do so. The Biggest Loser uses fat shaming techniques to compel the contestants to lose large amounts of weight. I have seen contestants yelled at, insulted, belittled, and told by their trainer to exercise to the point of physical pain and emesis. This is absolutely not a healthy or sustainable message to promote.
There is significant scientific evidence to suggest that the strategies The Biggest Loser utilizes on its show does not maintain weight loss in the long-term, and could be a factor in developing a serious eating disorder. In fact, a study was published this year in the American Journal of Health Behavior showed that watching The Biggest Loser gave participants a lower perception of exercise, and as the authors said, “may result in lower motivation to participate because of the anticipation of an unpleasant experience.”
Access to fresh produce: a positive, science-based strategy. Credit: KJHvM

I would like to point out positive health promotions that you have spearheaded. I think it was a fantastic idea to encourage big name suppliers, like Walgreens and WalMart, to carry more fresh produce. A large majority of Americans do shop for groceries at WalMart, pharmacies and even gas stations. So getting fresh produce where it will meet the American public was ingenious and effective. I know you were criticized for this move by people who themselves do not shop at these stores, but it was a smart, sociologically-informed approach. Studies have shown that produce consumption correlates with access, and one recent study published in Preventing Chronic Disease suggests that increasing access to fresh produce could increase consumption. If you want to be effective in helping foster healthier lifestyles I think you should stick to things that will work, and that you won’t regret later.
The Biggest Loser, however, is not a smart approach to encouraging a healthy lifestyle. I ask you to please not dignify The Biggest Loser by appearing on it, as the show sends very negative health messages to the public for the sake of entertainment.
Ariela Haro von Mogel
An example of the negative message that The Biggest Loser gives for exercise:


  1. Hmm! There’s something to be said about breaking somebody down to build him back up better. I had a personal trainer that told me how lazy or weak I was and, strangely, it did motivate me. I’m crediting some sort of reverse pschology or him helping me dig deep enough to find enough pride in myself. Although he wasn’t quite as bad as the trainers on the Biggest Loser.
    Just my experience.

  2. Hi Keith! You know, my sister has said the same thing and she feels it makes her work out harder and push herself to her limit. However, I do not think this is a good method for the general population. The “tough love” syndrome that The Biggest Loser embodies can be really negative, disempowering and flat-out humiliating for the majority of the contestants on the show. Insulting people while they are exercising is definitely not an effective solution to combating the obesity problem in the U.S.!

  3. Great OP Ariela. I have never been a big fan of the show primarily because it gives an unrealistic view of weight loss. Contestants often lose 10 to 15 pounds between episodes, which they show weekly. What they don’t tell their viewers is that the episodes are filmed 2-3 weeks apart. This creates an unrealistic expectation in the viewers regarding thier own weight lose. People can harm themselves trying to achieve the weight loses they see on TV.

  4. OK, this is only somewhat related, but it’s something I’ve thought about in the past and maybe this is a place to say it. The last time i went into a Walmart, there were two huge tables located central to the entrance aisle as you got into the store (past the greeter 🙂 These tables were piled high with colorful, sugary, corn syrupy seasonal baked goods. They were unavoidable. They were cheap. And I knew that many people were buying these things because they were simply attracted to them in a very basic, almost subconscious way – and that people who walked by that table without buying anything would have to be doing so on purpose, with conscious choice. What if there were some kind of sign emphasizing the negative consequences of eating these foods? Really negative consequences, like diabetes and resultant blindness, amputation and kidney failure, dialysis – early death? Remember the anti-smoking campaigns of the 70’s? which showed to kids: lungs removed from chronic smokers? It would definitely have the sort of shock value that the yelling coaches have on “Biggest Loser”. But, I guess if we don’t even just try moving the tempting goodies to a less visible area, I doubt there’s much impetus for educating the public on the danger of too many refined carbs. I was thinking that in another vein, we could have public service announcements that say things like “Take a walk. You’ll feel better.” (definitely not the tactics of biggest loser, and much more likely to encourage exercise, IMO)
    thanks – I agree with your assessment of Biggest Loser

  5. Thanks for your comment Mlema! People seem to know the dangers of eating too much sugar, fat, and salt but don’t act on their resultant knowledge. Behavioral strategies can be the most rewarding, since you have to tackle deep-seated habitus. So, placing large tables with sugary goodies will definitely attract a lot of people. They know it’s bad for them, but they do it anyway. The goal of the R.D, M.D. or counselor is to figure out how to motivate people to choose healthier options. Also, changing the environment in a way that disencentivizes unhealthy choices is also key. What would happen if a large table of lightly sugared vegetable/fruit drinks was offered instead? Would as many people try/buy the item? Become more open-minded to healthier alternatives? I will attempt to try this at the hospital where I plan to do my clinical rotation. I want to have a large table with “Cucumber Aguas Frescas” in a central area where people are forced to come into contact with me (yet not mess with the cafeteria flow). How many people will be intrigued by my presence and try a delicious drink that is healthy?
    So you bring up a good point. And PSAs would be awesome. It would give people basic and needed knowledge, but behavioral issues (like smokers have to contend with, despite PSAs) still need to be addressed.

  6. More evidence The Biggest Loser is unsustainable and unhealthy. Jillian Michaels has been cheating against the show’s rules and giving her team caffeine supplements. Great – so the message is clear. Exercise fanatically, take caffeine supplements, eat a very minimal low calorie diet, tolerate righteous trainers who yell at you for being fat and lazy…and YOU TOO can be BEAUTIFUL and THIN like them!

  7. So is there any kind of followup on the contestants? IMDB tells me this show has been on the air since 2004. There should be enough data points here to see if these folk do well in the medium term.

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