big figures | 

RTÉ received more than €560k from Department of Health for sponsorship of Operation Transformation

'Operation Transformation', presented by Kathryn Thomas, received the sponsorship money over two years. Photo: Andres Poveda

Eilish O'Regan

The Department of Health gave RTÉ over €561,000 in the last two years in sponsorship for Operation Transformation which has recently been criticised by eating disorder groups.

The popular programme aims to help a group of people lose weight and overhaul their lifestyle.

Figures reveal the department handed RTÉ €278,300 in 2020 and €282,000 in 2021 for the current series from its “Healthy Ireland” fund which is an initiative to improve wellbeing and promote better habits.

It follows strong criticism of the programme by eating disorder support groups who accused the show of “triggering” some people with the condition, causing them distress and mental health problems.

Bodywhys said 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 extent of the sponsorship, which amounts to €561,200 of public money over two years, was revealed in a response by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said yesterday that sponsorship of the programme was made available on the market for tender in a competitive process.

It included several sponsorship “stings”, including a logo on TV, RTÉ One’s social media accounts, radio and on the website.

She said: ”This is the only sponsorship available on Operation Transformation and Healthy Ireland won this tender. It does not receive sponsorship from any other body.”

Asked about the decision to sponsor the programme Prof Donal O’Shea HSE National Clinical lead for Obesity yesterday said it gives “very good visibility to encourage a healthy lifestyle in January and February” reaching nearly one in three television viewers.

“It has changed from the beginning when it had no dietitian and there was more shaming and giving out.

“I did not like that people were wearing lycra and the men were topless when weighed. It has changed a lot over the years.”

He meets with the producers to give direction and it has supported public policy initiatives such as the sugar tax and calorie labelling.

“It is not correct to label this programme as a driver of an eating disorder,” he said. Operation Transformation is different to brasher weight loss shows such as The Biggest Loser which he does not agree with.

Pressure on people with eating disorders comes from online and social media where the unrealistic perfect body image is promoted.

The surge in eating disorders, which doctors are seeing over the pandemic is a massive worry, he said.

“People were living online during the pandemic” and confronted with unrealistic images of ideal body shapes.”

The programme helps get the GAA to put the lights on in pitches in winter to get communities walking, he said.

A public health campaign could cost the department much more money and it would not have the same reach.

“We have an influence over it but it is not something we have control over.”

He added that it is “an entertainment show with lifestyle and weight part of it and not everyone will agree with that”.

"It would be very disappointing if the criticism led to it coming off the air.”

The RTÉ spokeswoman said each participant has a weekly health check including for blood pressure, cholesterol and psychological wellbeing and weekly targets are set in a variety of areas. She said Healthy Ireland research showed 74pc of people questioned had made one or more positive lifestyle changes after watching the show.

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