The effects of reality television on weight bias: an examination of The Biggest Loser

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 May;20(5):993-8. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.378. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


Weight-loss reality shows, a popular form of television programming, portray obese individuals and their struggles to lose weight. While the media is believed to reinforce obesity stereotypes and contribute to weight stigma, it is not yet known whether weight-loss reality shows have any effect on weight bias. The goal of this investigation was to examine how exposure to 40-min of The Biggest Loser impacted participants' levels of weight bias. Fifty-nine participants (majority of whom were white females) were randomly assigned to either an experimental (one episode of The Biggest Loser) or control (one episode of a nature reality show) condition. Levels of weight bias were measured by the Implicit Associations Test (IAT), the Obese Person Trait Survey (OPTS), and the Anti-fat Attitudes scale (AFA) at baseline and following the episode viewing (1 week later). Participants in The Biggest Loser condition had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals and more strongly believed that weight is controllable after the exposure. No significant condition effects were found for implicit bias or traits associated with obese persons. Exploratory analyses examining moderation of the condition effect by BMI and intention to lose weight indicated that participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition. These results indicate that anti-fat attitudes increase after brief exposure to weight-loss reality television.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Image*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Prejudice
  • Public Opinion*
  • Social Desirability*
  • Television*