Updated 12 minutes ago
BODYWHYS, THE EATING disorder association of Ireland has today raised concern over RTÉ’s Operation Transformation’s “community sanctioned dieting culture” and the perceived negative mental health impact on some viewers, ahead of the show’s return this evening.
Bodywhys said that many of its service users say the show “continues to be triggering for them, causes them distress and impacts negatively on their mental health”.
“Although the show has a positive objective intending to bring focus to health and wellbeing, the considerable emphasis on dieting, body weight and shape and the way these are measured, collectively counted and presented, create a community sanctioned dieting culture that research shows does little to achieve long-lasting weight loss or health promotion,” the association said in a statement responding to concerns raised over the programme.
Bodywhys said it has contacted the producers of the show requesting that they consider “a more inclusive approach, signpost to support services and add disclaimers around the content”.
In response to a query from TheJournal, RTÉ said the tv series has “evolved considerably over the years and now encompasses a more holistic approach to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as losing weight”.
The broadcaster said that the new “holistic nature” of the series will be seen during the contestants’ weekly check-in with the experts. An overall health check is to be carried out on each Leader, looking at health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol, hydration, sleep quality and psychological wellbeing.
The contents of the show were also discussed on RTÉ’s Liveline today and yesterday when callers raised issues about the format and a suggested emphasis on dieting culture.
In a statement read out on Liveline yesterday, the broadcaster said: “For the past number of years each Operation Transformation leader has been given a choice of clothing for their individual health check-in.
“For Operation Transformation 2022 all the leaders will wear leisure/gym clothing which consists of t-shirts, shorts/leggings and running shoes.”
This year the show will again be sponsored by Healthy Ireland – a government initiative “which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in Ireland”.
The Department of Health last year paid out over €350,000 in advertisements and sponsorship of Operation Transformation. The Department did not respond to queries from TheJournal on the cost of sponsorship this year.
It comes as the rollout of the national clinical programme for eating disorders has faced a series of setbacks, with just over 3% of money allocated to improve supports and treatment actually spent on this since 2018.
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In 2020, the entire amount of the development funding for eating disorder services was used to cover other areas of mental health provision. In 2021, the opening of three eating disorder treatment centres was pushed back to the disappointment of campaigners.
Bodywhys notes that hospital admissions in 2020 for young people with eating disorders rose by 66% and 32% amongst adults when compared with 2019 figures.
The association said that programmes supported by public health initiatives, like Operation Transformation, need to take account of the audience and to ensure they have appropriate signposting at the very least.
“There is a growing body of research evidence which supports health promotion in ways that do not rely on shaming or measuring/counting as a tool for motivation.
“Were Operation Transformation really to live up to its name it could promote health and well-being, in a new format, in a way that is inclusive and diverse. We feel it is important that the media remains a neutral place in terms of body image messaging.”
Operation Transformation has been on RTÉ One since 2008, and sees five people taking part in a weight loss and exercise programme across eight weeks.
Their progress is filmed for the show and on each episode, their weight and progress are discussed. Each participant – known as a ‘leader’ as the aim is for them to inspire others – is given a weight loss target every week
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Airing tonight, the show will once again be hosted by Kathryn Thomas. The show offers a food and exercise plan for free on its website but also encourages people in local communities to take part in events, though due to Covid these were adapted to fit public health guidelines.
A petition calling for the show to be taken off screens has so far garnered nearly 6,000 signatures.
Set up by the Instagram accounts Intuitive Eating Ireland and Binge Eating Dietitian, the petition raises questions about the long-term effectiveness of Operation Transformation.
If you need to speak to someone, contact:
- Bodywhys 1890 200 444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (eating disorders)
- Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
- Samaritans 116 123 or email email@example.com
- Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (suicide, self-harm)
- Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
- Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
With reporting from Aoife Barry