We've all watched morbidly obese contestants battle it out every week on the Biggest Loser, competing to lose the most weight. They heave through competitions, resist junk food temptation and sweat more on national TV than any person should. The transformation is always stunning and heartwarming: They leave healthier, more active, living life to its fullest. Regardless of whether they won the game, they won a second chance.
(That we watch the sweat-a-thon from our comfortable couches on Sunday night is another story, but I digress.)
Now the show – and the doctors involved – have come under fire for a recent decision to include a new demographic: children.
The pediatrician involved, Dr Joanne Dolgoff, says the show "did a lot of research to make sure that this was handled the right way. And I give them a lot of credit because they are not exploiting the children. It's all about addressing an issue that needs to be addressed, and you know, they've gone about it entirely the right way."
But Dr Yoni Freedhoff, a doctor in obesity medicine in Ottawa, has blasted the show and Dr. Dolgoff, for not following the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.
He says the show's success rate of long-term weight loss is incredibly low – with a high guess of 33 per cent – and attacks the decision to include children (there will be three this season – two 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old.)
The doctor writes, "I shudder to think of the taunts, pressure and pain that the show's children will face as this season progresses, let alone if they, like the vast majority of the show's contestants, regain once it's done."
"I'd posit that simply being on the Biggest Loser puts these kids, regardless of their short and long term weight loss outcomes, at incredible risk of harm," Dr Freedhoff writes in his blog, "due to the pressures of simply being so completely in the public's eye, an eye which isn't kind to adults, let alone the public eye of young teenagers."
I don't see the show as being cruel or unkind to its contestants – but given the prominence of bullying, is this a good idea?
Would children be inspired or ridiculed for their weight loss efforts?