Why you should care

Because so many cultures love watching … weight loss.

Women are shimmying and turning it out in lines, grooving to the music. When the music ends, the studio audience goes nuts. On Fridays in Kenya, families turn their TV set on to watch Slimpossible (auditions for season 7 started in the fall), and cheer on the weight loss efforts of more than a dozen women.

Hosted by news anchor Lilian Muli, the Citizen TV show caught fire throughout social media last season with its hashtag, #Slimpossible6, and is available for viewing on YouTube. With a Biggest Loser–like season arc, women dance, exercise, diet and receive advice from trainers and experts in an effort to lose weight for 1 million Kenyan shillings (roughly $10,000). The drama, says fan Michael Mwavu, comes from seeing “the girls work so hard with determination, with their trainers, trying to achieve their goal. The passion they put in [is] incredible.” Plus, the show’s discussions are irreverent in the best way; host Muli asks one expert if doing pushups will lead to “those perfect boobies we all want.”

Noncommunicable diseases, unlike infectious diseases — HIV, tuberculosis and malaria — get very little attention [in Kenya].

 

On Slimpossible, the reasons for participating are noble: “I want to reduce my weight so that I can play with my baby,” said season 6 contestant and — spoiler alert — winner Olive Wanjiru. This comes at an important time for public health — in a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute, almost two-thirds of the world’s overweight people are found in low- and middle-income nations, and Kenya’s relatively low rate of obesity rose to 5.9 percent in 2014. The show, says Kibachio Josepha Mwangi, head of the noncommunicable disease unit in Kenya’s Ministry of Health, has served as “an awakening,” raising public awareness about the complications and dangers of obesity. “Noncommunicable diseases, unlike infectious diseases — HIV, tuberculosis and malaria — get very little attention [in Kenya],” he explains.

It seems that the world over, televised competitions involving weight loss still garner high ratings. From Portugal to Australia to Ukraine, The Biggest Loser continues to air, as it has uninterrupted since its debut in the U.S. in 2004. But that might not sound so hot to everybody: Former contestants of The Biggest Loser and similar shows have spoken out about developing eating disorders and unhealthy body images following their participation. And experts have said such shows may encourage unhealthy or extreme weight loss practice among contestants and viewers.

But a different controversy appears to have inflated Slimpossible’s cache, or at least gotten people talking. Mwavu declares, “It seems the results were ‘rigged.’ ” Such allegations set Twitter aflame with #Slimpossible6.

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