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Statement Regarding Operation Transformation – 05/01/22

We are aware of concerns regarding Operation Transformation, this is our statement.

Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, has received a great deal of correspondence and concerns, which we share, regarding the programme ‘Operation Transformation’, set to return to RTÉ on January 5th. 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. 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.

There are many factors involved when a person develops an eating disorder, one of which is 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. 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.

End of Statement.