Food Environment

Must See TV? The Biggest Loser or Well Fed

  • Update Feb 19, 2013:  Well Fed is now available for viewing online.



There are two shows airing tonight which address the important issue of childhood obesity.  The first is The Biggest Loser, NBC’s hit show in its 14th-season where viewers follow obese contestants in their quest to lose weight.  When it was announced that this year they would include children, there was a great deal of concern about how this would impact them.  As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff put it:

Given this season’s causal billing as a “big, bold mission: to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic head-on,” no doubt viewers are going to be looking to the teachings of The Biggest Loser to help with their children’s struggles. Therefore along with being taught that obesity is treatable by means of incredible amounts of vomit-inducing exercise, severe dietary restriction, and never-ending servings of guilt and shame, the medical literature suggests viewers will also be taught that failure is an obese child’s personal choice — something that their bullies have been saying forever. Indeed increasing hateful weight bias is the last thing America’s already over-bullied overweight children need as a recent study on bullying published in the journal Pediatrics found that the odds for being bullied for an overweight child were 63 per cent higher than their lighter peers…The fact that The Biggest Loser trainers have gone on record this year and formally reported that they won’t yell at the show’s children is a testament to the ugliness of the show as a whole.

Dr. Joanna Dolgoff is a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics who appears on the show.  She says, “What we do will be the exact opposite of what we do with our adults.” What do they do with their adults?  This season they locked them in a room for four and a half hours with pizza, candy, ice cream, and soda.  Keep in mind that up to 57% of obese patients may meet the criteria for a diagnosis of food addiction.  We would be outraged if a show took alcoholics seeking treatment and locked them up in a room with beer, wine and whiskey.   When I asked Dr. Dolgoff if she approved of the show locking up food addicts in a room with candy and soda, she did not reply.  I must have hit a nerve though because she blocked my Twitter account.

I would also like to ask Dr. Dolgoff if she approves of one of the show’s trainers yelling at a contestant, “You’ve been wrong your whole life!”  As Dr. Nanette Nuessle put it, “Unacceptable. Always.”  While the trainers may not be yelling at the children, the fact that they are treating anyone this way is unacceptable.  A responsible doctor would speak out against this kind of bullying in the name of “helping” someone lose weight instead of giving tacit approval with Tweets like this:

The show is the extreme. Take what you learn & use it realistically in ur life. Let it be motivating!

Which brings us to the second show, Well Fed, a new Kentucky Education Television special.

In a society filled with super-sized fast food meals and a wealth of fatty, sugary, and salty prepackaged foods, it can be difficult for families to eat healthfully. Restaurant food that used to be reserved for special occasions is routine now. Some children in Kentucky have never eaten a fresh blueberry, strawberry, or banana. KET’s Well Fed: Nourishing Our Children for a Lifetime explores childhood nutrition, its impact on health outcomes and obesity rates, and efforts across the state to make it easy for families to eat well.

My recommendation?  Skip The Biggest Loser and watch Well Fed instead.  As an added bonus, since it’s on public television, there are no commercials to mute.

Well Fed premieres Monday, Feb. 18 at 9/8 p.m. on KET.

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