In a surprise move, the acclaimed reality show The Biggest Loser, which premiered tonight, has for the first time added kids to their cast. Bingo, age 13, Lindsay, also 13, and Sunny, age 16, are part of the cast this season. The show promises to tackle childhood obesity with the addition of the three kids. Fortunately, Biggest Loser films in Calabasas in California, protected by California's well-received child labor laws for reality shows. By law, a parent or guardian, and a set teacher, will need to be at the ranch when the children are there.
The Biggest Loser changed a few things to accommodate the kids. They can't be voted off, and they won't participate in the famous, sometimes demoralizing, weekly weigh-ins. They appear to be thus far more like a smaller side story parallel to the main contestants, the adults.
The move has not been without controvesy, however. Fitness guru and author Golda Poretsky says the show encourages bullying of overweight children, and physician Yoni Freedhoff is calling for an all-out boycott. Said Dr. Freedhoff:
"I would imagine that the psychological devastation of weight regain in any of these children will be far more damaging to them, and far more likely to be ridiculed by their peers and even complete strangers, than regain in any adult participant. As far as blame goes - I don't blame the children for wanting to be involved (their parents I'll cover tomorrow) - the show's messaging is incredibly seductive. I do however blame the producers as no doubt they understand the implications of these kids being in America's cold, hard, spotlight and however well intentioned they might claim to be, ultimately what they're doing is exploiting children for the sake of viewers, and I believe, putting children in true harm's way."Coach Bob Harper had this to say: "With the kids, we wanted to do exactly the opposite of when we work with the adults. We do no breaking down, just lifting up ... It's about getting kids to move around again and getting kids to be kids."
But the show is already putting a lot of responsibility on the kids, calling them "ambassadors." What if they can't live up to the expectations for them? How will a 13-year-old handle such pressures in front of a national audience?