Obese Teens in Media

Mac and Cheese Dawg

Last December, television found yet another way to hit a new low, at least in the opinion of critics of the teen version of “The Biggest Loser.” Not only that, but different people complained for different reasons. The contestants were a 16-year-old girl named Sanjana (or Sunny), and two 13-year-olds named Noah aka Biingo (male) and Lindsay (female).

The show’s familiar regime was altered for participants of relatively tender years, allowing them to train mainly at home, and with no embarrassing weigh-ins on-screen. Even if they didn’t do well, they wouldn’t be rudely eliminated.

Lindsay Cross of Mommyish voiced an objection:

In all of the talking points thrown around during the PR introductions, body acceptance is notably absent… [T]here’s no mention of the fact that teens shouldn’t be made to feel self-conscious or bullied or lonely simply because they aren’t the right size. There’s no talk of being confident, no matter how many pounds you drop.

Body acceptance and healthy weight loss are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to promote both. It’s possible to say that you’re deserving of love and kindness and confidence no matter what size you’re at, while still trying to get healthier.

The Kids’ Point of View

During the press tour to publicize the show, the teens talked about the things that obesity prevented them from doing, like going out for baseball or cheerleading, or singing in front of an audience. They were encouraged to tell the world about the traumatic events in their lives, including being the new kid at school, and enduring the attentions of bullies for that or other reasons.

Economic times are tough, and parents get divorced. As always, a certain number of TV viewers enjoyed kibitzing. Their attitude could be capsulized as, “Who hasn’t been through hard times? It’s no excuse for letting yourself turn into a blob.”

Her parents didn’t name her “The Drill Sergeant,” but longtime “The Biggest Loser” star Jillian Michaels has been called that by many other people. Dispensing love that is perhaps a little too tough, the star personal trainer is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, Michaels did tell People magazine it’s not the kids’ fault they are fat. In her worldview, an active lifestyle and healthy self-esteem are the answers.

Either way, Examiner.com’s Rick Osbourne makes the point that change comes from within, not from being yelled at. He believes in “prehabilitation, not rehabilitation.” He’s all about prevention, and has no patience with any part of “The Biggest Loser” concept. Watching kids humiliated for a worldwide audience is not his idea of entertainment, and is useless besides, in his view:

I’m here to announce that those producers won’t make one ounce of difference in this insidious epidemic. It may generate profit for the investors. But it’s destined to have ZERO impact whatsoever on childhood obesity… [N]o one has ever successfully rehabbed an epidemic into submission… Awareness is no longer the issue. Results oriented action that’s preventative rather than rehabilitative is the issue… Reality TV has absolutely NOTHING to offer the childhood obesity epidemic.

Childhood Obesity News would really like to know what our readers think about the teen version of “The Biggest Loser” and similar TV shows.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Now Biggest Loser tackles childhood obesity as it welcomes 13-year-old contestants for the first time
DailyMail.co.uk, 12/06/12
Source: “‘The Biggest Loser’ & Their Childhood Obesity Press Tour Completely Ignore Body Acceptance,” Mommyish, 12/05/12
Source: “Why the childhood obesity edition of ‘The Biggest Loser’ is destined to fail!,” Examiner.com, 01/06/13
Image by Chris McArdle.

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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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