No one is more surprised by this than I am. This is a television show that I watched sporadically during its first season in 2004, when reality TV was in its infancy, then forgot about. Recently, though, Healthy Valley magazine asked me to profile Season 11 finalist Hannah Curlee, so I checked back and was discovered that the show had become a global phenomenon, and has been seen, at times, in 25 other countries as well.
I interviewed Hannah, who, with her sister, Olivia Ward, had become the two biggest losers of the season (Olivia took home the jackpot as ‘Biggest Loser’) and I fell in love with her down home manner and Tennessee accent. So, since I have Hulu Plus, I checked and found that, even though the show was wrapping up Season 13, I could watch Hannah and Olivia win.
I got hooked. Everyone else seems mesmerized by the makeovers, the “reveals” and the transformation of these formerly morbid obese people into toned stunners. That’s fun to watch, but what astounds me is the health makeover! Behind the “reveals” and the glammed up contestants in their slinkiest clothes at the finale, the health benefits of weight loss and strenuous exercise is astounding.
On the “Biggest Loser,” contestants Dr. Robert Huizenga, the show’s medical advisor, to learn the results of their check-ups at the start of the show and the camera records their tears when they learn that they have all the ills that obesity brings with it –diabetes (almost universally, it seems), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome (a collection of ailments that ratchets up heart disease risk), and more.
At this visit, the contestants learn that, although their actual age is one thing, their “biologic” age, given their risk factors, is often 20 years older or even more. Then, later in the series, the slimmed down “losers” are seen by Dr. Huizenga again, and learn that, thanks to diet and the show’s strenuous exercise schedule, they’ve shaved the excess years off their lives.
And, of course, the tears flow again. But how “real” are these weight losses. Well, I recently learned that they are so real that Dr. Huizenga recently presented a study of the implications of the “Biggest Loser” program at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in Chicago.
His study involved 35 contestants, which included 17 without diabetes, six with the condition, and 12 who had a condition known as “prediabetes,” which is a precursor to the disease. Within a few weeks, those with diabetes and prediabetes were able to discontinue all their medication for the condition, including one morbidly obese man who had needed six shots of insulin a day! It was the same story with high blood pressure –within a few weeks, all of the contestants with this killer condition were off medication as well.
The contestants maintained a fourhour- a-day exercise schedule and they also reduced their calorie intake to at least 70 percent of what their bodies at rest would require, so its no wonder they lost weight. But Dr. Huizenga said they could maintain their weight loss –and their health gain –with a 90 minute per day exercise schedule.
When asked if this was realistic, Dr. Huizenga told an interviewer, “”I have a job and I work out from 90 to 100 minutes per day,” he said. “It’s about setting priorities. Time is not the issue; priorities are the issue.”
Given the epidemic of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in our country, he has a good point, especially when the study also notes that, before the show, the contestants spent 5-6 hours a day watching TV.
And, unless, like me, they were watching “Biggest Loser,” that time was probably not well spent!
Charlotte Libov is a women’s health pioneer and the author or coauthor of five health books, including the award-winning “The Woman’s Heart Book,” which was among the first to sound the alarm about heart disease in women. Her byline appears on major health websites and she is also a professional speaker who discusses health topics on TV and radio appears on television and radio. She works out at Equinox South Beach at least five-tosix times a week. Contact her at email@example.com.