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For more than a decade The Biggest Loser (US) has captivated American audiences. In February of this year the hugely popular reality show wrapped up its seventeenth season, and while it doesn’t quite receive the astronomical ratings it did when it first aired back in 2004, Season 17: Temptation Nation was still watched by more than 4.5 million viewers.
Entitled Persistent Metabolic Adaptation 6 Years After ‘The Biggest Loser’ Competition, the study was conceived by Kevin Hall, an expert on metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, while watching the finale of Season 8 in late 2009.
Designed to track the season 8 contestants for six years once the cameras had stopped rolling, the study uncovered some startling home truths that the show’s producers at NBC will not be happy about.
Following Danny Cahill’s Season 8 victory, which saw him lose 108 kilograms over the course of the show, Kevin Hall sought to investigate exactly what happened to contestants over the long-term after they had lost such large amounts of weight over such a short time period.
Kevin Hall and his team studied the “resting metabolic rate (RMR) and body composition” of 14 contestants from Season 8 and found that Danny Cahill was the only one who weighs less today than when the competition begun. Four of them are now heavier than before they went on the show.
These results revealed that the major reason for the contestants’ weight gain is resting metabolism, which slowed down dramatically due to the speed of their initial weight loss.
When the contestants first appeared on the show their metabolisms were normal for their weight, but after undertaking the shows excessive fitness and diet regimes the contestants’ metabolisms radically slowed. Now, they must eat hundreds of calories less each day than people of a comparable size to keep the weight off.
While Researchers were not particularly surprised by the fact that the contestants had a slower metabolism when the show ended they were taken aback by the fact that their metabolisms did not recover. Danny Cahill for example regained more than 45 kilograms over the six years, with his metabolism slowing to such an extent that he now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size just to maintain his current weight of 133 kilograms.
This in-depth research proves that the fight to lose weight and keep it off is a long-term one. However, some research suggests that the method of weight loss may matter. Gastric Bypass surgery for example significantly slows patients’ metabolisms but patients typically see it return to normal after 12 months.
Kevin Hall’s study found that only one of the 14 Biggest Loser contestants that his team examined weighed less than when the competition kicked-off, with four of them now heavier and nine returning to their previous weights. Whereas according to the Journal of Obesity the outcomes for patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery are far superior, with patients losing 60-70 per cent of excess weight after a year with approximately 50 per cent of this access weight loss maintained after 15 years.
The Biggest Loser has also received criticism in the past here in Australia with University of Adelaide professor, Gary Wittert labelling the show “a crass attempt to make entertainment of a serious problem, by enticing desperate people to participate, putting them through a gruelling and unrealistic regime of exercise and diet.”
The experts don’t completely agree on all details, but one finding is clear. The contestants are likely to have had better long-term weight loss outcomes if they had considered all their options – like bariatric surgery – and steered clear of the reality TV circus.