The months leading up to last night’s The Biggest Loser premier left me struggling with the decision of whether or not to watch what I feared would be a train wreck. On the one hand, I feel strongly that it’s unwise and unfair to make judgments based on per-conceived notions. On the other, I didn’t want to inadvertently support the show by my watching. And I didn’t particularly want to feel angry and sad.
For full disclosure, I’m writing this post in advance of the show’s premiere and setting it to auto-post. As of writing this, the premier is still over a day away and I haven’t fully decided if I’ll tune in.
If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, The Biggest Loser has decided to “tackle childhood obesity” this season by featuring three children on the show. The kids, two aged 13 and one 16, aren’t participating in all of the typical aspects of the show that the adults undergo. However, their stories are featured prominently and the goal is to help them lose weight – lots of it – during the course of the season.
Let’s just give the producers of the show the benefit of the doubt for a moment and suggest that they are genuinely concerned with childhood obesity – rather than simply trying to use our extremely misguided cultural obsession with waging war on fat children to revive a show that’s getting stale. Okay, so we’re saying they care about childhood obesity.
The show clearly knows much less about childhood obesity than they should, given the fact that they are purporting to be tackling it for the common good. For one, parading children on television is rarely a good idea, and when it comes to an issue as loaded with bias and discrimination as weight, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Anyone who has perused YouTube or has teenage friends on Facebook knows how cruel appearance and weight comments are the norm, particularly when the commenters are able to be cloaked in anonymity. To plaster three young people, not even old enough to give their own consent, on television to talk about their weight struggles is setting them up to be victims (or sadly, worse victims) of scrutiny and cruelty from the strong anti-fat segment of our population.
Further, the fact that The Biggest Loser frequently ignores is that the type of weight loss promoted on the show – the high intensity, rapid kind – is a formula for regaining weight. And then some. Over on Weighty Matters, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff points out that the vast majority of the show’s contestants do not maintain the weight loss. This isn’t surprising given that the same is true for 95% of people who diet, many of whom end up gaining more weight than they lost. So in fact, what the show is doing is not waging war on obesity, but potentially war on these children’s metabolisms.
By featuring these kids on a weight loss reality television show, we’re not only doing them a grave disservice, but we’re promoting inaccurate and dangerous ideas to our children: that extreme measures are the way to achieve weight loss, that weight loss is worth all sacrifices, and that it’s okay for children to diet. And perhaps worst of all, it communicates the idea to kids that weight is a self-created reality and that the “solution” is must be self-created as well, through punishing and painful measures.
Dr. Freedhoff recently initiated an advertiser boycott to help send a message to The Biggest Loser. If you’re as frustrated by this as I am, I encourage you to consider what you can do to take a stand for the kids — the three on the show and the millions around the world.