BBC Three’s misguided attempt to slim people down

In amongst the various Doctor Who spin-offs and teen entertainment, BBC Three occasionally also tries to lend a helping hand. Usually as part of a reality programme – because clearly people with problems are very entertaining.

One of BBC Three’s recent attempts at this is the rather self-explanatory Big Meets Bigger. The latest programme involved sending two fairly overweight people to the large and expansive land of the USA, where they spent some time living with two hugely overweight people (38 stone and 23 stone). The concept behind this was that the fairly overweight people would be somehow scared into thinking that they had better nip things in the bud before it was all too late – and “fight the flab”.

This type of solution seems to be used a lot. But research suggests that it just doesn’t work – and worse, is pretty likely to backfire. The problem is that people are very sensitive to social norms. Meeting more people who are overweight suggests to them, perhaps subconciously, that being overweight is the norm.

An interesting study by American social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese.

There are plenty of other similar examples. An interesting one in the UK Institute for Government’s MINDSPACE report is the practice of getting previous teenage parents into schools to talk about their experiences and regrets. Unfortunately this had unintended effects. It helped pupils imagine what it would be like to be in the same situation and made it seem normal… the policy had the reverse effect.

So BBC Three… What about a follow-up series called Big Meets Smaller?

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