The Biggest Loser may hope to offer up big inspiration for its millions of viewers. But that inspiration doesn’t extend beyond the couch. A recent study suggests that the reality television program actually turns viewers off to exercise.

Published in the American Journal of Health Behavior (2013; 37 [1], 96–103), the study assessed perceptions of exercise in 138 subjects after they watched a clip of either The Biggest Loser or (control group) American Idol. Once they had viewed the clip, they completed a go/no-go association task, a thought-listing task and questionnaires. The questionnaires focused on attitude, activity level and mood.

While it might seem that The Biggest Loser viewers would be more inspired to exercise, results proved the opposite: This group “had significantly lower explicit, but not implicit, attitudes towards exercise than did control participants.”

Why would a show aimed at inspiring people to be active turn them off to exercise instead?

“When people visualize themselves performing athletic endeavors or exercise-related movements, they tend to envision themselves performing such activities fluidly, powerfully, seamlessly and/or gracefully, which fosters a favorable attitude to fitness,” suggests Mary Bratcher, DipLC, co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego. “However, when faced with the prospect of watching highly deconditioned people struggle with the reality of awkwardly performing demanding, dynamic exercises and movements while being yelled at and judged, viewers may become turned off to fitness. This is perhaps because they find it difficult to reconcile what they are seeing with the notion of fitness they picture in their heads.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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