The Biggest Loser returns in January, and this time around, the program is "going after" childhood obesity. Trainer Jillian Michaels left the show in May 2011, but she's coming back to tackle overweight kids. Usually, The Biggest Loser is a weight-loss competition, with participants partially disrobing stepping on a giant scale, with the numbers displayed billboard-size, for maximum drama.
Apparently, Michaels and the producers have a different approach for the kids, who will be between the ages of 13 and 17. As Michaels told Al Roker this morning on Today: "There are going to be three teenagers on each team. They're not going to be on the ranch, and they're not going to be competing. It's obviously something that needs to be handled with kid gloves, but it's something that needs to be handled."
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.
Deadline Hollywood reports that the ratings for Loser have been on a steady decline, so a new approach — and heartwarmingly adorable kids — could inject new life into the series. That said, it's worrisome to think about these kids, who aren't even finished growing yet, being put on display for their weight. And it's cringe-inducing to think about how the trainers have behaved in the past — yelling and screaming at participants as they sweat and cry in the gym — doing the same with children. (They probably won't, but who knows?) Also: An overweight kid might be overweight for a zillion reasons, including poverty, availability of fresh food and safe outdoor spaces, cultural influences, and genetics. Will the show portray the overweight kids as lazy and overindulgent? Because kids are usually forced to take some kind of physical education classes or participate on a sports team. And kids usually don't cook for themselves or prepare their own school lunches. (Which is not to lay blame on parents or schools — just to point out how many different factors there are to consider.)
Obviously, if the kids are unhealthy and the show teaches them to be healthier, that's a good thing. It just seems like the narrative could easily veer into a fat-shaming, "all you have to do is stop drinking soda" kind of bullshit. Studies show that you can be overweight and healthy. Researchers have not found a link between soda and childhood obesity; and some question whether or not an actual "obesity epidemic" even exists.
An interesting twist? Since leaving Loser, Michaels has become a mom. She says:
As a former overweight teen, I know firsthand how dramatically weight issues can affect every aspect of a child's life… Having recently become a mother of two, I am more passionate than ever about helping empower children and families with the information and resources they need to live a healthier life.