- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Despite all the “Biggest Loser”-type shows on TV, all the pounds shed by their contestants and all the weight-loss products purchased by viewers, America continues to be the Biggest Gainer.

At least 10 weight-loss shows are airing these days, and on “The Biggest Loser” alone, this season’s three top finalists dropped a combined 365 pounds. Yet the rest of us are just getting chubbier, with obesity rates in the United States now the highest of any industrialized nation. In fact, more people are obese today than when “Loser” premiered in 2004.

So why aren’t these reality shows helping in the fat fight?

JD Roth, executive producer of “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” thinks they actually are.

“The first step to changing some systemic problem in society is awareness and I think (weight) awareness is at an all-time high,” says the 43-year-old producer, who is also behind “Biggest Loser.”

Dr. Terry Schaack, medical director of the California Health & Longevity Institute, where “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss” participants do an introductory “boot camp,” says there can be a long delay between awareness and action.

“You will see nothing in national figures for probably eight to 10 years after a dramatic incident occurs,” he says. “The U.S. Surgeon General went out and told people to quit smoking, I believe it was in ‘67. A hoard of people quit smoking, and the incidence of heart disease went down 15 or 20 years later. It takes that long.”

In the meantime, in addition to “The Biggest Loser,” an ample array of weight-loss shows should offer plenty of inspiration to Americans trying to slim down:

The CW’s “Shedding for the Wedding” features overweight couples competing in weight-loss challenges to earn elements of their dream wedding. Oxygen’s “Dance You’re A(asterisk)(asterisk) Off” scores plus-sized participants on their dance abilities and pounds lost. Lifetime’s “DietTribe” tracked the weight-loss progress of five real women over four months of intense diet and exercise. The Style Network has “Ruby,” a series that follows its morbidly obese namesake star on her journey to regain her health. There’s also MTV’s “I Used to Be Fat,” Discovery’s “One Big Happy Family” and “A&E’s “Heavy.”

Two more weight-related series premiere this week: Lifetime’s “Love Handles,” featuring overweight couples working to heal their relationships as they shed pounds; and ABC’s new “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” which follows one super-obese subject each week and tracks that person’s weight-loss progress over one year during each hour-long episode.

Yet even as the number of weight-loss shows continues to expand, so does the nation’s waistline. More than 72 million Americans are considered obese and millions more are overweight.

Still, the health and fitness industry continues to flourish: Dietary Supplements bring in $26.9 billion annually, health clubs generate $24.8 billion a year, weight-loss centers take in $3.9 billion in revenue annually _ and all are poised to grow. But industry-watchers say this has nothing to do with weight-related reality shows.

“Fitness shows are not driving the trends in fitness, but more grabbing onto the coattails of the success of the fitness industry,” says Taylor Hamilton, an analyst with IBIS World. He attributes the growth in gym locations and memberships to an increased overall emphasis on fitness nationwide.

Shaack and dietician Paulette Lambert, who is featured on “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” say they wish these shows offered more “teachable moments” for viewers. The format of “Makeover” lends itself to such moments, they say, since it isn’t a competition such as “Biggest Loser.”

Each “Makeover” episode follows only one person, and they aren’t taken away to a ranch: The super-obese subjects aim to shed about half their body weight in a year through diet and exercise while still living at home.

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