Losing weight on reality TV: A content analysis of the weight loss behaviors and practices portrayed on the biggest loser

Lori A. Klos, Christy Greenleaf, Natalie Paly, Molly M. Kessler, Colby G. Shoemaker, Erika A. Suchla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A number of weight loss-related reality television programs chronicle the weight loss experience of obese individuals in a competitive context. Although highly popular, such shows may misrepresent the behavior change necessary to achieve substantial weight loss. A systematic, quantitative content analysis of Seasons 10-13 (n = 66 episodes) of The Biggest Loser was conducted to determine the amount of time and number of instances that diet, physical activity, or other weight management strategies were presented. The average episode was 78.8 ± 15.7 min in length. Approximately 33.3% of an episode, representing 1,121 segments, portrayed behavioral weight management-related content. Within the episode time devoted to weight management content, 85.2% was related to physical activity, 13.5% to diet, and 1.2% to other. Recent seasons of The Biggest Loser suggest that substantial weight loss is achieved primarily through physical activity, with little emphasis on modifying diet and eating behavior. Although physical activity can impart substantial metabolic health benefits, it may be difficult to create enough of an energy deficit to induce significant weight loss in the real world. Future studies should examine the weight loss attitudes and behaviors of obese individuals and health professionals after exposure to reality television shows focused on weight loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-646
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 3 2015
Externally publishedYes

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Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC 2015.


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