Has the ‘Biggest Loser’ Jumped the Shark?


Childhood Obesity Tackled By The ‘Biggest Loser’


childhood obesity

By Dave Gleason


On September 4th 2012 the Associated Press Reported that in the shows 14th season “The Biggest Loser” will have children between the ages of 13 to 17 engage in trying to lose weight and get in shape and combat childhood obesity. I like many other professional trainers and coaches in the fitness industry have strong opinions regarding the motivational techniques utilized on the show. In addition, the validity of the exercise programming and coaching of proper technique also comes into question.


My response today is intended to be neutral as well as based on the most important participants of the report I read… the children. The underlying principles of coaching/training young children should be rooted in human development, physical culture and physical literacy. A coach can affect the overall well being of the children they serve. All coaches have the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on a child. The choice must be made as to whether it will be positive or negative.


First and foremost, the premise of the show is incredible transformation. Physical and often positive psychological changes are witnessed by millions of viewers, inspiring even the laziest of couch potatoes to start leading a healthier life style.


Fat loss is the hook that has us tuning in. In this case ‘the fight against childhood obesity’ is the catalyst for viewership.


The inherent issue I have here is that childhood obesity NOT the problem. It is a symptom of much larger problems plaguing our nation…lack of play, lack of physical activity, lack of sleep and poor nutrition. As young children enter into adolescence without having explored and discovered movement and the fun of physical play, they do so with no sense of physical culture.


My fear is that the children on this show will see more of the same as the adults only in a watered down version. For kids 11-17 to be taught the brutality of metabolic training, the boredom associated with long bouts of cardiovascular exercise, or the tiresome repetitiveness of weight machine circuits would be a travesty.


What they will be learning remains to be seen. My hope is that the foundation is developmentally appropriate movement skill acquisition combined with as much fun as they can handle. Teaching these children pain free and fluid movement combined with the joy that comes from feeling energized and accomplished can last a lifetime.


In the same article published by the Associated Press, the popular Jillian Michaels is quoted as saying the producers of the show “are ‘incredibly sensitive’ to safeguarding them”. The new mom and trainer for the show also remarked, “…it’s going to be controversial, and we’ll do the best we can to handle it in the most positive and effective way possible.”


Once again, this remains to be seen. My question is what qualifies Ms. Michaels to coach young children? This is not an attack on Ms. Michaels. Being incredibly sensitive will mean more than merely not being weighed for the broadcast. Let’s face it. Her track record is not that of the sensitive type. Here are a few things to ponder as you watch the show for yourself to evaluate the approach being taken by all the trainers involved.


Is there in fact an awareness of the communicative styles, physical limitations/considerations as well as the some of the internal factors associated with the psychology of children 11-17 years old?


Communicatively, most of the young participants will likely display varied physical ability and moderate to low motivation. These contestants need to be inspired and guided. If they are delegated to or simply instructed it will be a nightmare for the trainers and more importantly the kids. Furthermore, any instance exercise intended as a punishment is a sure sign of ignorance as it pertains to training young children.


The changes a child goes through during normal human development are filled with ingredients that create a vast separation between the approaches of training adults versus children. That said it is very likely that even 2 children the same age could have a 5-6 year difference in development. How? Growth spurts aside, two 13 year old boys could be separated by one being a couple years ahead of his chronological and the other behind. A potential 6-year gap does not simply equate to lessening the weights used from one child to another.


From a biosocial perspective – aside from already knowing they are different physically from their peers they are also responding in some manner to other biological changes to their bodies.


Kinesthetically they are aware of their bodies in varying degrees.


Psychosocially these young contestants are learning social skills, self-efficacy, and the concept of fairness in addition to adjusting emotionally.


Cognitively kids are processing abstract ideas such as health and fitness, diet, and transferring what they already know (correct or incorrect) and applying it to new experiences.


My question remains are Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper and Dolvett Quince prepared for what they are embarking on?


There is one statement printed in the AP report that I do take exception with. Here it is in its entirety:


The goal is to focus on the kids’ health rather than their weight, Michaels said, adding, “It’s about getting them on the softball team, not into a size four.”


I could not disagree more. When dealing with childhood obesity, the focus should neither be getting them into a size 4 nor on the softball team. Weight loss will be an additional benefit if the approach is to serve the best interest of the kids. Fat loss will be realized no matter the strategy. Fat loss alone under the guide of medical professionals and 3 months of a sound meal plan and intense exercise will elicit fat loss every time. The how is the most critical aspect of long-term success through a physical culture.


If these children gain the confidence to pursue softball or any other sport for that matter then that is a bonus. This mentality also accentuates a paradigm that physical activity should include an organized sport. The primary goals, at the expense of sounding repetitive, must be to establish a physical culture and developing physical literacy in these children.


Weight loss alone as a mission to combat childhood obesity is merely a Band-Aid.


My last point will be directed toward the apparent plan to have at least one young contestant mixed in with each team of 6 six adults. For all of the reasons listed above I remain neutral yet skeptical until I view the show for myself.


There are far more factors to consider than what I have mentioned in this brief writing. Add in adults who are waging war against their own internal battles in addition to being obese with growing children and a potentially ill-equipped training staff…I hope and pray the producers, the trainers, the medical staff, and the childhood obesity experts will create the optimal environment.


Ms. Michaels has given us all a bit of wonder with her admitting “I’m not going to make any promises” in the AP article in regard to her over all and hard hitting approach.


When the show airs in January we will all see young miracles make big changes on NBC. From what I have read from the Associated Press, there is a tremendous opportunity to combat the Childhood Obesity and positively affect the live of the contestants and thousands of young children who may tune in…I know this – I will be watching. Will you?



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