This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013 so the blog has been reproduced here.
TV SHOWS FOCUSED ON EATING, COOKING AND DIETING HAVE INCREASED ALONG WITH OBESITY
There are three things going on in this country that I believe have contributed to the obesity epidemic by redirecting our attention away from eating as a way to nourish and sustain us and turning it into a form of entertainment, a spectator sport, a chance for chef’s, coaches and trainers to become celebrities. They are Competitive Eating, Cooking Shows and Weight Loss Contests. Let me explain.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) is the governing body for Major League Eating (MLE), an organization that oversees all professional eating contests. The MLE hosts more than 80 competitive eating events worldwide every year and provides “dramatic audience entertainment” for their sport and an “unparalleled platform for media exposure.”
According to their website, MLE promotions generate more than one billion consumer impressions worldwide annually. They say the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest alone generates more than 300 million consumer impressions on domestic television in just a few weeks.
Some other MLE sanctioned contest results that caught my eye were:
- 7 quarter-pounds sticks of Salted Butter in 5 minutes
- 17.7 pounds of cow brains in 15 minutes
- 49 Glazed Doughnuts in 8 minutes
- 36 Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches in 10 minutes
- 6 pounds of SPAM from the can in 12 minutes
Thousands of cooking shows have been aired on American television since James Beard hosted the first postwar TV cooking show called I Love to Eat in 1946. Julia Child’s The French Chef was one of the longest running cooking shows, broadcast from February 11 1963 to 1973. Reruns continue to air on the Cooking Channel. Then in 1993 the Food Network made its debut and since then has created over 300 different food, restaurant and cooking shows.
The Food Network programming is now seen in more than ninety million households and includes number-crunching shows like $40 a Day, 30 Minute Meals, 5 Ingredient Fix and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. In 2005 the reality contest The Next Food Network Star made its appearance, pitting viewers against one another for the chance to have their own cooking show.
Weight Loss Contests
The Biggest Loser premiered on October 19, 2004 with 12 contestants vying for a $250,000 Grand Prize. On September 20, 2011 the show kicked off Season 12 with 15 contestants competing in a “Battle of the Ages” that groups them by age for the first time. Hundreds of contestants have lost weight and won a few moments of notoriety in between.
The series is now an international hit, produced in 25 countries and aired in 90. The Biggest Loser has also become a “lifestyle brand” made up of merchandise and services inspired by the show and promoted through its subscription-based online diet and exercise extension at www.biggestloser.com. Spending on these consumer products has generated over $300 million through 25,000 major retailers.
A newer entry in the television weight loss genre is Heavy, a docudrama that follows 22 heavy individuals facing “extreme life-threatening health consequences” as a result of their obesity. The producers say this is not a competition or stunt, but an in-depth look at the weight loss journeys of each participant over a six month period of time.
All this attention on eating, cooking and losing weight follows a parallel trajectory with our rising rates of obesity. Is there a connection? I think there is, and if you agree, it may be time to turn off the TV and take a walk.
How has watching any of these shows changed your life?