Study Looks at Deeper Role of Diet, Exercise on "The Biggest Loser"

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I must admit that I’m not a big fan of reality TV. Most seem pretty gratuitous in pushing all the buttons. However, there are a few that I have watched fairly regularly and enjoyed, such as CBS’s "The Amazing Race" (for the opportunity to see all the great places they travel) as well as Bravo’s "Top Chef Masters" (to wonder the creativity that is displayed). However, several of my friends have told me that they have gotten hooked on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Having completed its 13th season the United States, the goal of the reality series is to help the contestants, who are obese, lose weight and get healthy. The series has been so successful that it has spread to a number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Turkey, Sweden, South Africa, Slovakia, Scandinavia, Romania, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Poland, the Philippines, Netherlands, Mexico, Latvia, Israel, India, Hungary, Germany, Finland, Brunei, Brazil, Australia, the Arab World and Asia.

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    So do you need to follow the examples of "The Biggest Loser" to lose weight and keep it off? Interestingly, a new study out of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) actually involved 11 participants from the reality television program who lost a significant amount of weight over a period of several months in order to learn more about weight loss.  “By including the show’s contestants as voluntary study participants, this research took advantage of a cost-efficient opportunity to study a small group of obese individuals already engaged in an intensive lifestyle intervention,” commented Dr. Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at NIDDK.

    In this study, researchers took measurements on three key indicators – body fat, total energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate (which is the energy burned during inactivity) – during three intervals while the participants were taking part in the reality series. The first assessment was at the start of "The Biggest Loser" program, while the second measurement was taken at the six-week mark. The final assessment was taken at week 30, when participants had been home for at least 17 weeks.

    The researchers found that the participants had an average weight loss of 128 pounds, 82% of which came from body fat. The remainder of the weight loss came from lean tissue such as muscle. Dr. Hall and his team also calculated the diet and exercise changes that caused the body weight loss using a computer model on human metabolism. This was important because the computer model was able to simulate what would have happened if the participants had used only diet or only exercise in their weight loss efforts. Therefore, the researchers were able to calculate how each of these important elements affected the participants' weight loss.

    So what were the findings? Dr. Hall and his team discovered that the change in diet was primarily responsible for the contestants’ weight loss. The new eating plan led to 65 percent of the weight loss in body fat and 36 percent of the weight loss in lean tissue, such as muscle. This analysis also found that exercise alone led to the loss of only fat, but no muscle.  Furthermore, the researchers found that exercise actually led to a small increase in lean mass, even though the contestants lost weight.

  • The researchers’ calculations also suggest that participants in The Biggest Loser could actually maintain their weight loss and avoid weight gain through more moderate lifestyle changes. They recommend 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on a daily basis as well as reducing calorie intake by 20 percent.

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    "This study reinforces the need for a healthy diet and exercise in our daily lives," said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. "It also illustrates how the science of metabolism and mathematical modeling can be used to develop sound recommendations for sustainable weight loss — an important tool in the treatment of obesity — based on an individual’s unique circumstances."

    So if you’re a fan of the show, keep watching! There’s some great information about losing weight and powerful stories, courtesy of the participants. However, know that just making some less intensive changes can lead to some big results in most people's lives!

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    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2012). “Biggest Loser” study finds modest diet and exercise can sustain weight loss. National Institutes of Health.

Published On: October 16, 2012