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Television fuelling demand for cosmetic surgery

Media release
31 August 2008

Television fuelling demand for cosmetic surgery

Embargoed until 2pm, Sunday 31 August 2008

Reality television programmes which focus on extreme weight loss and drastic changes to a person’s appearance may be behind a dramatic increase in cosmetic and weight reduction surgery, according to University of Auckland researchers.

Professor Keith Petrie and two graduate students from the Department of Psychological Medicine said the portrayal of cosmetic and weight loss procedures on television typically distorted the speed and difficulty of these physical changes, creating unrealistic expectations for viewers, and had been shown to lower viewers’ self-esteem.

“Most programmes focus on the few individuals who have the most dramatic changes in appearance, thus exaggerating the likelihood of positive outcomes,” they wrote in an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The rate of weight loss and other appearance changes seemed extremely fast due to time being condensed into a television programme format.
“Complications, infections and failed procedures are barely mentioned, giving the impression that negative outcomes are rare.”

Moreover, Professor Petrie said, the environments in which “appearance medicine” programmes were filmed were often highly artificial, as most people lack access to the same level of resources, equipment, personal trainers and chefs.

“Given the dissatisfaction that participants typically express about themselves and their lives at the programmes’ commencement, the extreme psychological pressure that is created during filming, and the difficulty of maintaining rapid weight loss, it would be surprising if all participants and their families walked away unscathed.”

Recent data showed that four out of five patients seeking first-time cosmetic surgery were influenced by plastic surgery reality television. Dentists also reported that “extreme makeover” programmes had recently increased the demand for cosmetic dental procedures.

More people than ever before were having cosmetic and weight reduction surgery in the UK — with the demand not limited to women. The greatest increase was in anti-ageing procedures such as facelifts and eyelid surgery.

Increases in cosmetic surgery procedures had also been reported in the US (almost 12 million in 2007, up 59 percent on 2000), and Australian figures seemed to be rising.

Professor Petrie said ethical safeguards were needed for participants in these appearance medicine programmes, as well as more research into the effects on both viewers and participants.

This would “help improve participant selection procedures and ensure that vulnerable individuals are not placed in potentially damaging situations”.

In 2007, The biggest loser Australia programme averaged more than one million viewers per episode, with the finale drawing nearly two million watchers. The series winner lost 70 kg or 47 percent of his starting weight.


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