Search icon


05th Jan 2022

Eating disorder charity raises concerns about Operation Transformation

Hugh Carr

eating disorder operation transformation

The charity described the series as “triggering” for service users.

An eating disorder charity has raised concerns about the new season of RTÉ television show Operation Transformation, which is due to air on Wednesday night (5 January).

Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, has said they’ve received “a great deal of correspondence and concerns” in relation to the programme.

“Many of our service users have highlighted that the show has been and continues to be triggering for them, causes them distress and impacts negatively on their mental health,” Bodywhys wrote.

“This is, in particular, for those who have or live with a person with an eating disorder, or those experiencing disordered eating.

“Although the show has a positive objective intending to bring focus to health and well-being, 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.

“We have contacted the producers of the show to request that they consider a more inclusive approach, signpost to support services and add disclaimers around the content.

“Anecdotally, we have heard that when the show is broadcast, a wave of pressure and conversations about food, calories, eating behaviours and exercising emerges in homes, workplaces and communities, where health messages become conflated with discipline and a numbers game that is unhelpful at least and damaging at worst.

“We cannot ignore the fact that hospital admissions for young people with eating disorders have risen by 66% and by 32% amongst adults, with increases also reflected across all community, specialist and inpatient services, including more acute presentations and admissions.

“Faced with this growing problem, programmes that are supported by public health initiatives need to take account of the audience they are broadcasting to, and ensure that they have appropriate signposting information at the very least.

“It is important that we are all aware of the impact this pressure can have on people of all different age groups and backgrounds in our society.”

Bodywhys also said there are many factors involved when a person develops an eating disorder, including “the atmosphere and world they are living within”.

“The media makes up part of that landscape and plays a role in creating a normative discontent with how people feel about their body and their relationship with food,” it added.

“We hope that the national broadcaster would feel the sense of responsibility that comes with this influence.

“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,” Bodywhys concluded.

When approached for a statement by JOE, RTÉ said that Operation Transformation 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”.

“In this year’s series, for example, the weekly check-in (the part of the show where the leaders meet the experts) incorporates an overall health check looking at a range of health indicators including blood pressure, cholesterol, hydration, sleep quality and psychological wellbeing,” it said.

“Weekly targets for the leaders will now be set in a variety of areas. This further demonstrates the holistic nature of the series and all the areas of support and advice our health experts give to our leaders throughout.”

RTÉ also said that, in 2021, Healthy Ireland commissioned independent qualitative market research to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme.

It stated that this research confirmed that of those who watched the show, 74% said they had made one or more positive lifestyle changes as a result of it and that over 98% of this group said that they were likely to continue with the health behaviour changes that they had made.

According to the network, 63% of respondents also stated they made the changes with their household or family.

“Operation Transformation prides itself on bringing communities together and getting them up and out in order to improve both their physical and mental health,” RTÉ added.

“In previous seasons the leaders have spoken about the long-standing positive influences this experience has given them and viewers have spoken about how the leaders inspired them to do the same.”

LISTEN: You Must Be Jokin’ with Aideen McQueen – Faith healers, Coolock craic and Gigging as Gaeilge