As America struggles to deal with the growing obesity epidemic many are wondering how to encourage young people to sidestep weight gain and live healthier lives. But while major changes such as nutritious school lunches, incorporating more physical activity during the school day, and educating parents on how to cook fast, healthy (and cheap) meals have yet to become the norm, companies are looking to benefit from a new market of body-conscious consumers: kids.
Just in time for the New Year, NBC will return for yet another season of its hit reality show The Biggest Loser. While the new season will include more obese folks attempting to transform themselves into svelte athletic machines, this season will see something new: overweight teens.
The latest installment of The Biggest Loser will follow the journey of three teens, two 13-year-olds and one 16-year-old, as they struggle to lose weight and break the cycle of childhood obesity. While the teens won’t be subject to public weigh-ins and elimination threats, many are still concerned about the message the show will send other kids.
Golda Poretsky of the blog Body Love Wellness has launched a #StopTheBiggestLoser campaign. She argues that while the show has helped some contestants lose weight, the show’s methods—abnormally grueling workouts and extremely strict diets—provide unhealthy examples for others.
Just like with adults, every attempt to make fat kids thin has failed in the long run. All that dieting does is set these kids up for a lifetime of weight cycling, poor self esteem, and potential negative impacts to their cardiovascular and metabolic health. And it teaches them the sad reality that acceptance from adults means changing their bodies by drastic and dangerous means.
Plus, as I mentioned above, the show legitimates fat bullying, and now it’s looking to further legitimate fat kid bullying.
What fat kids really need is unconditional love, respect, appreciation, safe places to play and nutritious food. Just like thin kids. Just like all kids.
Poretsky isn’t the only one who has raised concerns over the show. While most doctors recommend people lose weight at a moderate pace, contestants on the show dramatically drop the pounds as a result of working out five to six hours a day and adhering to a strict diet.
Robert Kushner, the clinical director of the Northwestern University Comprehensive Center on Obesity, told LiveScience: “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. So the message, to me, is just all wrong.”
Despite the concerns, Jillian Michaels, one of the show’s trainers, said they are taking every precaution to ensure that the teenagers will be treated with “kid gloves.”
“We won’t be saying things to kids like, ‘How much weight did you lose?’ It’s about getting them healthy, using words like ‘healthy.’ We won’t be getting them on a scale; it’s about getting them on a softball team — things like that. We’re very cognizant of how touchy it is, how controversial it is. And yet, of course, that’s right where I want to be, right in the sweet spot, right in the frying pan. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to be part of it.”
What do you think: should ‘The Biggest Loser’ also include teens?