12:58am Tuesday 17 September 2019

Opinion: Weight-loss mantra is enslaving Gen-Y


Dr Andrew Dickson

The youths underwent 12 months of exercise programmes, diets and weigh-ins. At the end, there were predictable minor bodily changes. They also received sage words from Ihi Heke – words along the lines of “as you mature you realise it is about the journey, not the final outcome”. Ihi Heke’s approach to health improvements is an admirable one. Unlike the majority of the personal trainer industry he isn’t focused specifically on weight loss – although this would be easy to miss if you watched the show.

I had three major problems with this programme.

The first is simple, and is now becoming well known within the academic community at least. Promoting weight loss is not ethical. Research tells us that 95 per cent of people who attempt to lose weight will regain that weight within a period of about four years. Sadly, the glee that comes with the initial weight loss is just part of the weight cycle. It is like borrowing heavily against your house at the height of a property bubble – it is nearly always followed by pain. In the case of weight loss, it is the abject pain of the regain.

 To suggest that substantial, permanent weight loss is a likely outcome, as they must have done to recruit these eight young people, is ethically moribund. To then convince them to attempt the impossible on national television is akin to enslavement for the viewing pleasure of a faceless public.

The second problem is the class battle set up by the ludicrous title Saving Gen-Y. The insinuation being made is clear: that generation Y is a generation of fatties who are going to die unless someone saves them. And salvation comes in the form of experts who, like me, are members of Generation X.

It is clear that the producers of this show tried to play on the misconception by older members of our society that young people today are lazy and fat and are unwilling to do hard work. Ironically, I suspect that the majority of viewers of this show were in fact Gen-Xers, specifically weight-anxious Gen-Xers recently off their $5,000 road bike, or just back from Zumba class. Gen-Xers who gained pleasure by seeing members of the moral weight-loss brigade take it to the “immoral” fat kids. With this in mind, perhaps the show should be called Enslaving Gen-Y.

My third problem is the most complex. I believe that Ihi Heke’s message was corrupted by the television programme in order to build a coherent “weight-loss” narrative. The other “expert”, Claire Turnbull, was certainly weight-loss focused, which is evident by her new book Lose Weight for Life. But Ihi Heke is not.

Throughout the show he references the pursuit of physical exercise for something other than the attainment of a body ideal and, as a marathon runner and mountain runner myself, that is something I understand. But Saving Gen-Y featured endless the weigh-ins, the ups and downs, the grins and frowns.

The biggest failing of this show was the entrapment of Ihi Heke’s ideas. His real message, seated within the Māori concept of health, hauora, is completely lost under the overpowering weight of the weight-loss mantra. Dr Heke needs his own show, free of the fruitless, faithless and vacuous discourse of the weight-loss industry – and free of scales. This might actually help people.

But, then, would Gen-Xers watch it?

Dr Andrew Dickson is a lecturer with Massey University’s School of Management. His blog – othersideofweightloss.org – takes a critical view of the weight loss industry.

 Massey University

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