Wednesday, January 02, 2013

So Long as the Biggest Loser Exploits Children, I'll be Boycotting Its Advertisers' Products

If you haven't already heard, this Sunday's 14th season premiere of the Biggest Loser will see the show's latest twist unveiled - the inclusion of children. This year there will be two 13 year olds and a 16 year old losing weight before a prime-time audience. They won't be competing for any prize money, they won't be weighing in, and they'll only be on the ranch periodically, but they will be part of a television series which assuredly will be watched by all of their friends and relations.

No doubt many will see this as something laudable, something along the lines of, good for the Biggest Loser for helping out those poor kids.

But is it really a good deed?

As far as the treatment of obesity in the pediatric population goes we know that there has yet to be a behavioural weight management intervention proven to have a long lasting benefit. As far as the the Biggest Loser itself goes we know it cultivates hateful weight bias, and we know that the rapid weight losses it generates destroys participants' metabolisms in a manner far more dramatic than would be expected by the losses themselves.

And as far as the Biggest Loser's approach to the kids goes - assuming it's roughly the same approach provided to the adult participants - it will involve a huge amount of exercise (4 hours a day minimum is what the adults are doing), coupled with highly restrictive diets, and the pervasive insistence that if you just want it badly enough, you'll be able to make it happen - the corollary of which of course is that if you aren't successful it's your own damn fault you lazy, weak, loser.

To their credit, many of the Biggest Losers' past participants have maintained dramatic losses, but according to one former contestant, the majority have not. We might then fairly presume that one or more of the children involved will regain the weight that they're about to so publicly lose, and given the nature of the show's teaching, will likely hate and blame themselves for doing so. They may even gain back more than they lose in the first place consequent to the impact the show's approach will undoubtedly have on their metabolisms.

And here's where my knickers are in a knot. The adults - well it might be argued that they have the maturity and insight to know what they're getting themselves into. The same can't be said to be true about the children and 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.

A few days ago I signed a petition calling for the Biggest Loser to not include children, but I don't expect it to actually have any impact. On the other hand, what might have an impact is a boycott of the Biggest Losers' advertisers products.

Consequently so long as children appear on the Biggest Loser, and so long as their parent companies continue to buy advertising time during the show, I will not be purchasing the following products:

  • Quaker Oats
  • Brita water filters
  • Wrigley's Extra gum
  • Yoplait yogurt
  • Subway
  • Jennie-O meats
  • Bodymedia (they make FIT exercise trackers)
  • Cybex exercise equipment
  • Planet Fitness
  • Weight Watchers
  • Sprint
  • Ford

  • And as I watch the show this season, I'll be adding advertisers to the list, and periodically reblogging this.

    If you'd like to come on board with this boycott, please share this post with your Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and personal email lists. The greater the number of people who've shared this post, the more likely it is that the Biggest Losers' advertisers will take notice. Moreover, if you'd like to send an email to a member of the sales or PR teams of the aforementioned products, click here and an email will be generated for your approval - I imagine if they were to receive hundreds or thousands of emails, it might at least give them a moment of pause. Ultimately if anyone has the power to stop this madness it's the show's advertisers - money always talks.

    [Click here and you can read my thoughts as to why regardless of outcomes or approaches, The Biggest Loser is putting children in harm's way and why I think the show's paediatrician is breaking her Hippocratic oath.]