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.