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Gaining fans by shedding pounds -- 631,000 tune in to health show

OPERATION Transformation is proving a hit with Irish viewers keen to keep their New Year resolutions.

The RTE programme attracted more than 600,000 viewers this week as the fourth series began.

"The viewing figures were really strong (on Wednesday January 5) which we're delighted with -- an average of 631,000 viewers," RTE spokeswoman Rayna Connery told the Herald.

Ratings also showed that 36pc of the audience chose to tune in to the diet show to find out who this year's five leaders would be.

Members of the public were encouraged to follow the participant who had the most similar lifestyle to them, so they could then follow the leaders' new regime and progress.

Nutritional and exercise advice was posted on RTE's Operation Transformation website to this aim, attracting crowds of internet users.

Proof that Irish people are increasingly anxious about their weight is provided by the level of activity on the programme's interactive site. It had an impressive 326,957 page views by Thursday -- only a day after the first episode was aired.

Almost 14,000 people were also following the show on Facebook by the end of this week, a 4,000 hike since Tuesday.

The show's medical expert, Dr Eva Orsmond, said the emphasis would be placed on health and fitness of families rather than individuals in 2011.

"This year we need to involve the whole family unit, so people start looking at food as medicine, to turn it into a hobby and have fun with it as well," she said.

"I spent a lot of time creating recipes for the whole family -- obviously children or people who don't need to lose weight can have more potatoes and rice, but portions needs to be balanced with vegetables and meat."

She hopes to encourage parents to set a better example for their kids by preparing their meals from fresh ingredients and sitting down together to eat.

"Parents have to stop being in denial about their children's diets," the Finnish doctor said.

"The worst cases I've heard of, or seen, in work (at Orsmond clinics0 was a one-year-old child who had Fanta in his bottle, and parents who gave their kids Coca Cola for breakfast -- sometimes nothing else."

While Dr Orsmond has noticed similar nutritional issues abroad through her practice of medicine, she believes that Ireland has a history of bad eating habits.

"It's not just an Irish problem, but some countries are better or worse than others," she explained.

"During the Celtic Tiger era, people started to lose their priorities, the value of (home cooked meals).

"They didn't and don't give food the respect it should get -- we need to use and demand better quality ingredients.

"At the end of the day, anybody can afford healthy food if their money doesn't go into pints, cigarettes and takeaways."