Children on the Biggest Loser: Inspiration or Exploitation?

“The Biggest Loser” is back for another season of inspirational stories and remarkable body transformations coupled with the fiery coaching of none other than Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper, and Dolvett Quince. This edition provides us with an additional highlight: childhood obesity. Three children will be present in various episodes throughout the season, helping with challenges and performing workouts of their own.

It is no secret that childhood obesity is a serious problem. In fact, nearly 32% of children and adolescents in this country are overweight or obese. It makes sense, then, to tackle such an issue that is plaguing almost 1/3 of the American youth. “The Biggest Loser” claims to be doing just that: highlighting the issue and providing ideas and strategies to stimulate change. This sounds great, and could very well encourage positive gains in the health conditions of children nation-wide.

But hold the phone a moment. Is a reality television program really the best way to attack this problem? Sure, the kids will most likely receive excellent advice and have an awesome experience, but are they the ones who gain something? Adding children to a show that is already built around pulling the viewers’ heart strings must be good for ratings and increased viewership. The possibility exists that children will become normal participants on the program; what’s to stop NBC from exploiting their presence for an improved image and continued positive responses in viewer numbers? Those viewers undoubtedly include children, and what are they doing? Staring at that oh-so-captivating box, sedentary, instead of spending that time doing what they see those kids on TV doing: moving, discovering, LIVING.

My goal is not to be the ultimate cynic, nor do I loathe “The Biggest Loser”. However, if childhood obesity is to be truly overcome, it needs to happen through cultural change. The problem with advocating active and healthy lives via reality television is that we still end up sitting in front of a screen, inactive. Our children follow suit. I believe there is too much reliance on television as an educational source, and “The Biggest Loser” doesn’t help to move things in another direction.

As long as the television – whether in the traditional sense or from some other media device – is our main source of entertainment, children won’t be moving, and neither will their weight.