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Photos: ‘Biggest Loser’ Season 9

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  1. Ashley Johnston

    Age: 27
    Starting weight: 374
    Current weight: 191
    Lost: 183 pounds, 48.55%

    The heaviest woman on the show this season, Ashley, a 27-year-old esthetician from Knoxville, Tenn., dropped more weight on campus than any woman in "Biggest Loser" history. Though she fell off the treadmill the first day, she recovered to become this season’s fierce “pink ninja.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sherry Johnston

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 218
    Current weight: 119
    Lost: 99 pounds, 45.41%

    A widow at age 51, Sherry of Knoxville, Tenn., had written off finding happiness again. She came on the show to start the next chapter of her life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cherita Andrews

    Age: 50
    Starting weight: 277
    Current weight: 186
    Lost: 91 pounds, 32.85%

    Though this 50-year-old homemaker from Houston, Texas., only lasted in the competition for two weeks, she never quit. She accomplished her entire weight loss at home. "I'm fighting for my life," she says. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Victoria Andrews

    Age: 22
    Starting weight: 358
    Current weight: 222
    Lost: 136 pounds, 37.99%

    Vicki, a 22-year-old student, came on the show to become the person she always wanted to be and to make her partner, her mom proud. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Cheryl George

    Age: 50
    Starting weight: 227
    Current weight: 151
    Lost: 76 pounds, 33.48 %

    After raising a family, Cheryl, a 50-year-old shop owner from Ardmore, Okla., wanted to do something to empower herself. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Daris George

    Age: 25
    Starting weight: 246
    Current weight: 178
    Lost: 168 pounds, 48.55%

    Before he came on the "Biggest Loser," Daris, 25-year-old salesman from Ardmore, Okla., had never had a girlfriend and never been kissed. “I know I want a wife and a family one day,” he says. “I need to jumpstart my life.” Though he struggled with stress, Daris set a record by running the "Biggest Loser" marathon in slightly more than 4 hours. And, yes, he now has a girlfriend too. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Darrell Hough

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 413
    Current weight: 224
    Lost: 189 pounds, 45.76%

    He wasn’t the largest man on the "Biggest Loser" campus, but Darrell, a press operator from Ann Arbor, Mich., was told that he was the sickest man with the most health problems. “I just sat back and let things happen for too long.” After losing an astounding 189 pounds, his health is better than it’s been in years. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Drea Hough

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 298
    Current weight: 214
    Lost: 84 pounds, 28.19 %

    Drea had difficulty forming close relationships because her weight made her afraid to touch other people. “I had a hard time love,” says the 24-year-old executive assistant. “But that changed on the ranch.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Crutchfield

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 485
    Current weight: 357
    Lost: 128 pounds, 26.39%

    James, half of this season’s identical twins, says he came to the "Biggest Loser" because his only other alternative was surgery. Though he was hurt by injuries and restricted to the pool, he never gave up. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. John Crutchfield

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 484
    Current weight: 335
    Lost: 149 pounds, 30.78%

    John, who lives with his wife and children in Orlando, Fla., came on the show to stop the cycle of tragedy and premature death that has affected his family for years. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Sam Poueu

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 372
    Current weight: 230
    Lost: 142 pounds, 38.17%

    Sam, a former bar bouncer from California, says that getting fit and finding love on the "Biggest Loser" with fellow contestant Stephanie Anderson was “the greatest thing I have ever done in my life — hands down!” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Koli Palu

    Age: 29
    Starting weight: 403
    Current weight: 188
    Lost: 215 pounds, 53.35%

    Final four contestant Koli was eliminated by popular vote from the competition to become this season’s "Biggest Loser," but his impressive 215 pound weight loss won him the at home prize of $100,000. He came on the show in hopes of becoming an inspiration to the American Samoan community and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lance Morgan

    Age: 38
    Starting weight: 365
    Current weight: 237
    Lost: 128 pounds, 35.07%

    Lance, a commercial diver from Texas, was unable to find work because his obesity put him over the safety limits. He went on the show to reclaim his career and revive his marriage with Melissa. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Melissa Morgan

    Age: 39
    Starting weight: 233
    Current weight: 143
    Lost: 90 pounds, 38.63%

    Strong-willed Melissa, a lawyer from Texas, says she came on the show to become a better role model for her children. “This was never about the money,” she says. “It was about changing our lives.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Maria Ventrella

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 281
    Current weight: 167
    Lost: 114 pounds, 40.57%

    On the Biggest Loser campus, Maria, a mom from Chicago, Ill., not only conquered her weight problem, but she also overcame her fear of water. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. WINNER: Mike Ventrella

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 526
    Current weight: 262
    Lost: 264 pounds, 50.19%

    This season’s "Biggest Loser," Michael came on the show as the heaviest contestant in the show’s nine season history. The 30-year-old DJ from Chicago, Ill., shattered a number of records on the show. “I had to save my life,” he says. “Now I know that the sky is the limit.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Migdalia Cancel

    Age: 28
    Starting weight: 265
    Current weight: 213
    Lost: 52 pounds, 19.62%

    This military wife from Sanford, N.C., suffered from homesickness but in the end refused to give up her dream of living a better, more active life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Miggy Sebren

    Age: 48
    Starting weight: 240
    Current weight: 149
    Lost: 91 pounds, 37.9%

    Miggy, a chef from New Jersey, was one of the season’s fiercest competitors. Days after receiving an emergency appendectomy she was back on campus training for the week’s weigh in. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Patti Anderson

    Age: 55
    Starting weight: 243
    Current weight: 170
    Lost: 73 pounds, 30.04%

    Patti, a California business owner, lost her father at age 55. Now at the same age herself, she came to the "Biggest Loser" to avoid suffering the same fate. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Stephanie Anderson

    Age: 29
    Starting weight: 264
    Current weight: 165
    Lost: 99 pounds, 37.5%

    “I came to the ranch with my mom to get healthy and to start our new life,” says Stephanie, 29. “And I fell in love with Sam.” She and fellow contestant Sam Poueu have moved in together in West Hollywood, Calif. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. SunShine Hampton

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 275
    Current weight: 161
    Lost: 114 pounds, 41.45%

    As the only two overweight people in their family, Sunshine formed an extra close bond with her father O’Neal, but was afraid to stand on her own. Her journey on the "Biggest Loser" made her much more independent. “I’m a woman now,” she says. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. O'Neal Hampton Jr.

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 389
    Current weight: 230
    Lost: 159 pounds, 40.87%

    O’Neal, a postal worker from Minneapolis, Minn., was everyone’s favorite father figure on the ranch. Though he struggled with injuries, his fighting spirit helped him succeed in his weight loss journey. “It’s a brand new me,” he says today. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Season 9 contestants

    The ninth season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser: Couples” was the show's biggest season yet. Among the 22 contestants, five of them started the show at over 400 pounds. And even though only one can take the title, everyone ended the season a winner and with a new chance at life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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By
updated 2/22/2010 2:50:34 PM ET 2010-02-22T19:50:34

NBC's "The Biggest Loser" is all about records. In the past seasons, the weight-loss reality show has repeatedly set new benchmarks for heaviest contestant (454, 476 and 526 pounds), fastest 100-pound weight loss (seven weeks), and most weight lost in one week (34 pounds).

The show, which takes obese Americans and pits them against each other in a battle to lose the most weight and win $250,000, thrives on extreme numbers. But physicians and nutritionists worry the show's focus on competitive weight loss is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, dangerous.

"They're taking people who have been inactive and are not in good shape and boom, automatically subjecting them to this stress," Carol Wolin-Riklin, the bariatric nutrition coordinator for the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, told LiveScience. "Things are going to happen."

And indeed, things have. Two patients were hospitalized after collapsing during a one-mile (1.6 km) foot race for the season 8 premiere. This year's season 9 opened with another strenuous challenge in which contestants raced 26.2 miles (42 km) on stationary bikes. Show medical consultant and UCLA professor Rob Huizenga had to drag one protesting contestant off her bike when she was stricken with severe cramps. A second contestant, 526-pound Michael Ventrella, was treated for exhaustion.

Health risks of obesity
The show's producers point out that contestants are under medical supervision and say the extreme nature of the competition is inspirational for viewers.

And of course, there are serious health risks to being as obese as the "Biggest Loser" contestants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. The risks become more pronounced as the obesity becomes more severe, and losing weight is a very good idea, said Wolin-Riklin — if done right.

"The way I go about encouraging healthful weight loss is by working on changes one at a time," she said. "By making these changes bit-by-bit I think you have a better shot at having long-lasting lifestyle changes."

Real-life weight loss?
But weight loss on "The Biggest Loser" is far removed from weight loss in the real world.

For one thing, contestants start out in worse shape than most. Seventeen of the 22 contestants have a body mass index over 40, meaning they are severely obese. In the "real world," more than one-third of U.S. adults, or 72 million people, are considered obese with a BMI of 30 or higher, according to the CDC. But research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the number of Americans with a BMI over 40 is just under 6 percent. In other words, the show's claim that the contestants are the "epitome" of American obesity is a bit like saying that VH1's "Rock of Love with Bret Michaels" epitomizes the American dating scene.

'Biggest Loser': Where are they now?And then there's the exercise program. Contestants work out five to six hours a day, eating strictly supervised diets. They routinely drop double-digit pounds each week. The contestant who loses the smallest percentage of body weight can be sent home.

In reality, said physician Robert Kushner, the clinical director of the Northwestern University Comprehensive Center on Obesity, a safe rate of weight loss is about one to two pounds per week.

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"I think a lot of people can feel quite defeated that they're losing weight in what we would call a recommended amount, but they would have been voted off the show immediately," Kushner told LiveScience. "So the message, to me, is just all wrong."

So is the science. Losing weight rapidly can be risky, according to Virginia Tech professor of human nutrition, foods and exercise Janet Walberg Rankin. Patients who lose weight quickly run the risk of gallstones, mineral deficiencies, loss of muscle tissue and reduced bone density.

Beginning strenuous exercise suddenly can cause problems with hydration, electrolyte balance and cardiac function. High impact workouts can put an extra load on already-stressed bones. At least two contestants in Biggest Loser history have struggled with stress fractures.

Regaining the weight
Risks aside, weight-loss experts say that the biggest problem with the Biggest Loser is that extreme methods of dropping pounds are less likely to work in the long run. Several former Biggest Loser contestants have regained some or all of the weight, which doesn't surprise Kushner.

"They're not working with a trainer every day, they're not on national TV every day, they're back to life," he said. "It's very difficult to sustain."

While researchers aren't sure if repeated cycles of weight lost and weight gained are more dangerous than staying overweight or obese, the psychological toll of failing to keep weight off can be grim, said Kushner. People often feel like failures and become hopeless about their health.

Those looking for a safe way to lose weight or get healthier permanently should make small changes, Kushner said, like gradually increasing exercise or substituting healthy foods for unhealthy ones. In the real world, slow, steady and committed wins the race.

"We're not looking for extreme makeovers in someone's lifestyle," Kushner said. "We're looking for changes that they can sustain long-term."

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

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