Childhood Obesity and Yet More Media

Finbar watching TV

We’ve been talking about television in conjunction with obesity, and, really, the farther this subject is looked into, the weirder it gets. Perfect example: a story by Stefanie Dazio titled “Hundreds line up outside Newark hospital to audition for reality TV show ‘The Biggest Loser.'” On a July day, about 400 humans converged at a designated spot in New Jersey, hoping to try out for this reality game show that has been beamed into the televisions of America since 2004 and doesn’t look ready to quit any time soon.

Never fear, no U.S. imperialism is involved. Many, many other countries produce their own versions of the show, which is basically a contest to see who can lose the most weight.

Okay, granted, Newark is a biggish place, and certainly it’s located near other populous cities, but still — isn’t there something just a bit creepy about the fact that so very many people consider themselves qualified to be on such a program, and then go ahead and make the effort to show up for this cattle call? (No slur on the overweight — that’s show biz talk for a group audition.)

The waiting wanna-be contestants were not shy about sharing with Dazio about how they can’t lose weight despite healthful eating habits and copious exercise, or even confessing their addiction to food. This degree of extraversion is only to be expected, otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place. As Dazio explains:

Casting director Karen Happel said she’s looking for people with positive attitudes and big personalities.

If the hopefuls make the cut, what’s in it for them? The privilege of playing for high stakes. A chance to win, and if they win, a species of fame and $250,000 worth of fortune. In return, everybody in the world gets to watch them sweat, cry, and give vent to their big personalities. The particular batch of overweight people who were chosen this summer will be on the air next month.

Alessandra Stanley, who explored the world of obesi-TV for The New York Times, comes down on the negative side:

Weight-loss reality shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ turn obesity into a contest, painting the solitary, often costly struggle against obesity as an exhilarating and financially rewarding team sport.

Stanley also discusses “One Nation, Overweight,” which she describes as “chilling… without being overly alarmist.” A Food and Drug Administration deputy director is interviewed on camera, and admits that the agency is pressured to fast-track the approval of pharmaceuticals designed to quell obesity. Stanley says of the documentary:

It begins at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top destinations for growing numbers of patients — some weighing 500 and 600 pounds — who want to have their stomachs stapled… An inventor demonstrates his answer to a sedentary work force: a machine that allows an employee to work at a computer terminal while walking on a slow-moving treadmill.

“Too Fat for 15” doesn’t sound bad on paper — a documentary series set at Wellspring Academy, a boarding school where teens learn a better lifestyle — but at least one critic, a blogger known as Connie, calls it “the worst reality show on TV”:

First off, these kids are way too young to have their insecurities exposed on TV… One girl is only 11. 11! Do you remember how awkward you were at that age? I was embarrassed to wear mismatched socks to school, let alone telling the world I need to lose 100+ pounds… Now let’s talk about these parents for a second. What moron in their right mind would sign the consent form to have their child go on a show like this?

The docudrama “Heavy,” from the A&E network, was described in lyrical terms by its makers:

Unlike other weight loss series, ‘Heavy’ is not a competition or stunt, but is rooted in the incredible real life day-to-day journeys of the participants during a lengthy treatment program… The result is a never-before-seen look at the unique struggles faced by dangerously obese individuals who must learn to live healthier lifestyles and understand the root of their food addictions.

ABC News presented some great footage in a show called “Inside a Food Addict’s Brain,” which takes the viewer into the head of a woman who, upon learning that she is a food addict, feels relieved and validated, because she’s been saying all along that the stuff is addictive. For the sake of the brain picture experiment, this subject also tried sugar for the first time in 18 years, had horrible reaction, and says she never wants to touch it again.

The award-winning feature film, Precious, is oddly interesting because the character’s weight, though grossly excessive, is almost irrelevant. Obesity is the very, very, very least of this young woman’s problems.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hundreds line up outside Newark hospital to audition for reality TV show ‘The Biggest Loser,’”, 07/30/11
Source: “Big Nation. Big People. It’s Clearly a Big Deal.,” The New York Times, 05/18/10
Source: “Move over Snooki: Too Fat for 15 is the worst reality show on TV,”, 08/18/10
Source: “Heavy,”
Source: “Inside a Food Addict’s Brain,”, 09/07/11
Image by giovanni_giusti, used under its Creative Commons license.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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