Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Biggest Loser Is Right

Oh no! The White House’s healthcare reform agenda is in peril! Massachusetts has given its Senate seat to the Republicans. That nullifies the majority rule the Democrats have had and held over the Republicans. Now they need Republican support in order to move healthcare reform forward. The inanity of all this is not lost on many people. Why is there such a ridiculous and convoluted political maze to make the healthcare system work even a little better? Is healthcare a game to these people? The short answer is yes. Healthcare is a game to these people. And they want to win. Healthcare is in fact a game to most Americans with the exception of those suffering from chronic debilitating diseases. Just look at The Biggest Loser on NBC.

It all started with a well spun idea—take morbidly obese people and put them through a grueling exercise and diet program to help them lose weight. It will empower the obese to take control of their lives! It will bring awareness to the obesity epidemic in America! The first season started out rather benignly. Contestants were tempted with high calorie foods and rewarded with money. Each week the contestants voted off one of two people who lost the least amount of relative weight.

But then America got clever. This was, in fact, a reality show after all. And with a quarter million dollar purse on the line, anything is “fair game”. This includes drinking a gallon of water before the weigh in so the next week you appear to lose an inordinate amount of weight. Or creating alliances with other contestants to systematically vote out the other obese people. You played to win. In the end, you did have to still lose more relative weight, but that was not hard if you got rid of the competition during the show. NBC, of course, loved it. And to help stoke the game play and drama they converted to couples contestants.

In this most recent aired season the show has a contestant accused of throwing the weigh in twice. And tensions between these contestants and the trainers are at an all time high. Also, changes in the show now have immunity challenges where one is “safe” from elimination no matter how much weight they lose—or gain. The advantages do not end there. Now challenge winners can dole out disadvantages such as “no gym for a day”, “2 lbs disadvantage”, and “no elimination vote”. You can imagine the cattiness on the show this season compared to the first season.

So clearly NBC and most of The Biggest Losers viewers believe obesity is a big joke. To them obesity is not a serious health problem. Would they toy with calorie counts and take away exercise regimens of contestants if they thought it was not a joke? The slippery slope would put cancer patients in the obese contestants’ places and take away chemotherapy and radiation therapy, doctors’ visits, and penalize contestants by making them smoke cigarettes. Extreme you say? Not so much if you consider that obesity kills far more people yearly than cancer.

What the show needs to do is to remove the coupling of contestants. Instead of boosting self-esteem and giving moral support, partners create arrogance and trickery. The show also needs to remove any penalties restricting diet and exercise. Those two core factors are what most obese people have a difficult time utilizing. To give and take these key elements is horribly insulting to anyone trying to lose weight. Also, if the essence of the show is weight loss, should not the contestant that loses the most weight win? Then they should automatically eliminate the contestant that loses the least weight each week. That would take care of any contestants throwing the weigh in. Lastly, they need a different way to calculate weight loss. While the percent change of weight calculation is simplistic enough for the public, it is clearly flawed and favors heavier contestants. There should be a factor using the body mass index to help account for that relative difference.

If NBC keeps this show going to way it is now, everything about the show will indeed be the biggest loser. Only not in the witty homonym way they intended.