The Weight of the Diet Industry

The effects that the billion dollar weight-loss industry has on its consumers

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photo collage by Violette Franke

With Americans’ increased exposure to media in the last few decades, the diet industry has grown exponentially in size and influence.

Violette Franke, Opinion/Editorial Editor

As obesity levels surged in the United States beginning in the 1970s, an unrealistically thin beauty standard was pushed through popular television and magazines. The common desire to lose weight to match the beauty standards of the time created a market that allowed the diet and weight loss industry to flourish and grow into its now estimated value of $72 billion, according to businesswire.com. What started as innocent cookbooks and television series in the 1960s would soon develop into the marketing scheme it is today, full of expensive weight-loss pills, meal plans, gym memberships and diet programs.  

Television is one of the biggest factors that has contributed to the boom of the diet industry. Throughout history, gaining weight was not seen as problematic among common Americans, as extra weight helped to withstand disease and was a sign of prosperity. It wasn’t until America developed into a media-crazed society in the mid-1900s with increased access to televisions that obsessing over celebrities’ trends became widespread. When viewers saw superstars such as Cher and Twiggy consistently being extremely thin beginning in the late 1960s, the desire for weight-loss to achieve the “perfect” body quickly became widespread. Later, in the 1980s, the weight loss industry found a new niche in television as at-home TV work outs such as Jazzercise and Super Stomachs were introduced as an easy, free, no-excuse way to work out.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many weight-loss reality TV shows aired, gaining popularity for their quick and life changing results. For 18 seasons and counting, one of the most watched weight-loss reality shows, “The Biggest Loser, follows a group of obese individuals in their weight-loss journey, and the one who loses the most over the course of a few months is crowned winner. The show highlights strict weight-loss routines that usually result in the loss of about 20 pounds per week. Not only are the results an unnatural and unrealistic image of weight loss, but almost all contestants have gained the weight back after their season ended. Through its role in television, messages pushed by diet culture have become the norm in the lives of Americans. 

Now, with the decline of television among the weight-loss industry’s most targeted audience (young females), diet culture has become prevalent in social media.   

Instagram’s popularity has allowed for the introduction of the new career of influencers to blossom. There are thousands of fitness and beauty influencers, each pushing their own various weight loss products and those of companies that sponsor them to post. 

SHS clinical counselor Christi Foster is educated on the detrimental effects that social media can have on both mental and physical health when it comes to body comparison and discontent among teens. She explains how media contains advertisements for products to help you look like your favorite celebrity or influencer and how these commercials can impact vulnerable teen audiences negatively. 

The reality is, most people do not have personal trainers, chefs and nutritionists at their disposal. Investing so much time and energy into social media can lead teens to believe that they are not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, hot enough, or athletic enough,” Foster said. This is when people can start looking for dangerous alternatives to help them look a certain way. Eating disorders become a viable option at this point. The long-term effects an eating disorder can have on a person’s body can be devastating and deadly. 

One of the most prevalent and controversial sponsors among influencers is detox teas. These teas act as laxatives and promise weight-loss effects using hunger-suppression techniques. The teas are often wildly over-priced, ineffective and full of harmful ingredients that lead to serious health issues. Various detox tea brands pay influencers for sponsored posts praising the tea. Big celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj have posted sponsored content for detox tea brands after being paid upwards of six figures. This raises questions about these influencers’ morals by pushing unsafe products to their millions of followers and making untrue claims about using them. Using Instagram influencers to market their products, the detox product market is growing rapidly and is expected to reach a worth of $69.85 billion by 2025, according to businessinsider.com. 

Charlotte Kinder, a certified nutritional therapist, was interviewed by insider.com and explains how the detox-tea marketing is often misleading and the results are rarely successful.  

“Recent research has shown that despite the growing popularity of detoxification for weight loss, there are limited studies that actually show these particular regimens are beneficial for long-term weight loss. They mainly work in the short-term through their associated low caloric intake,” Kinder said. In fact, in the long-term those having lost weight on calorie-restricted, detoxification protocols tend to experience weight gain once a normal diet is resumed.” 

While social media can have negative effects when it comes to health among users, the platforms also offer various forms of productive and healthy content. There are thousands of exercise videos from professional trainers and fitness enthusiasts to help people exercise from home. The wide variety available lets viewers pick from different muscles to focus on, music, instructors and languages. These classes are free to watch, which is important in contrast to expensive gym memberships.  

Workout videos gained popularity as an exercise option throughout quarantine as gyms were temporarily closed. Kaitlyn Metz (11) enjoyed taking advantage of the guided videos on YouTube over quarantine.

“During quarantine, I didn’t feel safe going to the gym so I started doing daily PopSugar Fitness classes online. It was really enjoyable because they had such a big variety, from weight classes to Zumba to whole episodes on ab workouts,” Metz said. “I feel like the workouts are honestly more fun than the classes I take at the gym, and they are completely free!”