Saturday, December 4, 2010

Biggest Loser: entertainment education in the form of reality TV

Dominating the health agenda, obesity has represented one of the United States’ priority health and behavior risk campaigns over the past several years.

Whether or not the reality TV show Biggest Loser was designed to be a form of entertainment education, the fact is that it is acting as a platform to raise awareness about obesity.

On the Biggest Loser, obese contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight in a given time period. Cameras follow contestants as they learn better eating habits, how to exercise and how to overcome emotional undercurrents of their eating behaviors. The show provides viewers with education about obesity and how to combat it, creating an entertainment education (E-E) program.

As defined by Singhal and Rogers, E-E is a “strategy used to disseminate ideas to bring about behavioral and social change.”(1)

The Biggest Loser gives the audience positive and negative role models, which illustrate behaviors that contribute to a healthy or unhealthy lifestyles. Viewers are able to identify their own behaviors, actions, and emotions as represented by the “characters” on the show and thus analyze how their own habits compare to the healthy/unhealthy models.

Reality TV shows are wildly popular in the United States, as well as in the global TV market, as we discussed in class on Thursday. In a highly competitive, commercial TV market, reality shows enable social awareness campaigns to reach a vast audience. E-E brings these messages to people in a way that they may not recognize them as such, in part because entertainment is such a prevalent part of people’s daily lives. “Not only does the public consume more entertainment, it is becoming a more integral part of people’s shopping, traveling, eating, driving, exercising, and working experiences,” Singhal and Rogers write. “By adding the luster of entertainment to the relatively “duller” fields of health promotion, education, and development, E-E fits in well with the contemporary global trend to entertainmentization.”(2)

In class we also discussed whether the nature of this program is truly altruistic in providing health information for the sake of health, or if it is another profit-driven program. Either way, the popular TV program is educating a nation, and a world with its international adaptations, that is increasingly obese.

1. Singhal, A. & Rogers, E.M. (2002) “A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education.” Communalization Theory. 12(2): 117-135.

2. Ibid.


  1. What is especially interesting about the Biggest Loser related to E-E campaigns, I think, is the enormous amount of viewer response to the program. Besides exercise gear and equipment, cookbooks, and DVDs, there is also a Biggest Loser Club in which members can track their own progress in dieting and weight loss. Although I do not entirely agree with the show's methods, one cannot deny the proactive "learning" effect it has produced among audiences.

  2. I really enjoyed their presentation on the Biggest Loser. What was really interesting is not only how the show is a form of edutainment because of the health awareness it provides, but the connection between brands and this awareness. The group focused a large portion of their analysis on how companies spend large amounts of money to 'advertise' in the show. So not only are you learning that making a yogurt smoothie is a healthy alternative to an ice cream sandwich, but you are being sold on buying "Yoplait" yogurt smoothie mix in the process. The question then becomes, is this truly edutainment or just the shows shameless money-making way of framing advertisements as edutainment?

  3. There's a lot of discussion of whether reality shows like the biggest loser and Big brother cause psychological consequences. Some groups touched upon this topic in class, but I was wondering what other people through about the issue.
    Reality shows always seemed like a gladiator spectacle, only instead of killing the opponents, we're entertained by their emotional torture. Why do we like watching people go through disturbing situations that disrupt their lives? Can we really say we've moved beyond Roman entertainment?

  4. I think reality shows like The Biggest Loser and Big Brother play into a side of us that likes to see people, who are nothing like us, at their most human. We love to cheer on a struggling underdog to lose weight (plus society has some pretty hostile biases against anyone not resembling a toothpick), and we love to see catty fights because we know we'd 'never' do that. I think in both shows it gives the audience an inflated sense that we're so much better than they are. Honestly though, people have always been weird about observing others' pain--just look at a history of public executions or the gossipy nature of high society that could easily destroy someone's livelihood 200 years ago.