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.]

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    1. Hal Johnson8:29 am

      The link to send the petition doesn't work, the first email is invalid and will not allow you to send it. I deleted that email and it went.


      1. Hi Hal!

        Fixed it with semicolons (rather than commas)


    2. PLUS with Jillian Michaels back - wonder if she will be "hawking" her supplements, etc. Hmmmm....

    3. Anonymous9:39 am

      Ok without being rude (because I like some of the articles on this blog) I think you are being a little extreme and over reacting. It sounds like they will periodically be on the ranch. I doubt they will have them do some of the extreme things on the show that the adults do. Do you think any show that has children is exploiting them? Children are part of every day life, it seems only natural to include them. I won't be boycotting any of those brands.

    4. Losing as much weight as the Biggest Loser contestants is basically unrealistic for the average person. What I will enjoy this season though is the fact children with a weight problem will more likely tune into this program. The program was always a family television program without sex, cursing, and other issues inappropriate for children. I too think you are overreacting and more good can come of this television program that bad. Let's wait and see what the season is like before we cast stones.

      1. Anonymous11:13 am

        I agree with this comment. Let's wait and see. I'm excited that children are going to be included and applaud the producers as long as the kids are offered useful and healthy advice re lifestyle, eating and exercise and no extreme measures.

      2. Wait, let me get this straight: Biggest Loser is promoting unrealistic weight loss goals, but it's great for kids because there's no sex and cursing? I'm sorry, your logic has baffled me. First off, this is the show where trainers scream insults and epithets at fat people who aren't working "hard enough." The lack of cursing is only due to the bleeping, which I'm pretty sure most kids can figure out. But, more importantly, kids do not have the capacity to comprehend that the weight changes they are seeing on the show are unrealistic, let alone unsustainable. What they see is that if you work out hard enough, restrict your diet severely enough, ANYONE can be thin and happy. You see that, but a child will not, and yet this is a family friendly show?

        I agree that we don't really know what they have in mind for these kids, but do we really want to take a "wait and see" approach with a show that has proven itself incapable of moderation or reason?

        After all, this is the show that in Season 8, brought contestants on the FIRST DAY to a beach and made them run one mile in the sand, which is hard enough for someone in decent shape to do, let alone people who admittedly haven't worked out in ages. And yet they were surprised when TWO CONTESTANTS COLLAPSED and one wound up in the hospital for weeks? For this, and so many, MANY other reasons, I wrote a post about what a disgrace it is that Michelle Obama endorsed the show and I'm not about to sit by and wait to see if the Biggest Loser has learned its lesson. This show is about ratings, nothing more, and how they will exploit adolescents to boost their ratings is not something we should "wait and see."


    5. Well, I don't buy or eat any of the sh*t you're boycotting, so it doesn't matter to me one way or the other, BUT ... putting Oprah with her hand on a fat guy's knee stating that metabolisms are destroyed is ... well ... just disingenuous. Now we're supposed to feel sorry for Oprah too?

      And as far as the claim that kids are being victimized, well, they are 13 and 16 years old. Hardly purely incapable of rational decision making. If they want to get healthy, who ARE YOU to stand in their way?

      Ironic, isn't it, that if peeps can't lose weight YOUR WAY you're gonna whine & moan?

      Good grief. Who's the child here?

      ~~ kate (all grown up & loving it)

    6. Anonymous11:45 am

      So because you don't agree with a show, you're protesting it's affiliates. Just like I'm protesting in your affiliates... because your blog is obviously set up for affiliate marketing.

      1. I don't see any affiliate ads anywhere on this site. Perhaps you're protesting "Canada's Food Guide to Unhealthy Eating"? Perhaps you'd like to come out from behind anonymity and admit the real issue you've got with Dr. Freedhoff?

    7. Anonymous12:16 pm

      Shouldn't you be boycotting the show. Without advertisers the show would not proceed. Without viewers the show would not find advertisers. These companies are only fulfilling there marketing duties by popularity vote. By watching the show you are saying to the companies, yes please sponsor this show.

    8. Since I've taken the red pill, I have been heart-broken to realize that so many children are suffering needlessly in this country due to weight and health issues. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, self-image issues, bullying. It's all tied together and "solutions" like The Biggest Loser are harmful and only serve to continue the cycle of suffering. There are no real answers offered via these conventional channels, and until they get it, they are making victims out of these children. Period. Anyone who can't see that is probably trapped in their own cycle of the same.

      Unfortunately, as other boycotts have proven, targeting advertisers can be quite effective. In this case, it's a losing battle because these advertisers see this as a win-win situation to be involved with a show with such a "positive message" and "healthy ambitions." The majority in America see this as only a net positive.

      It makes me want to cry. What if it were so much simpler than that? What if you just had to unplug a little, understand a little bit of human biology, and eat accordingly? What if it weren't a struggle at all?

    9. I'm reserving judgement until I watch a few episodes. I've had my issues with BL over the years, and I've had seasons I just refused to watch. Jillian is a parent of two kids, and I doubt greatly that she's going to cotton with blistering them up one side and down the other. I want to see how they approach things first.

      Have we seen any data from the BL medical staff showing any hard numbers on weight gain? As of the unscientific count, it looks like they have around a 30% success rate. I've seen self reports of 50% success rate. Based on the National Weight Loss Registry numbers that show only a 10% success rate over time, there's something BL is doing that could potentially be of value.

    10. I catch a lot of heat for being highly critical of this show but it's really shocking how many people honestly seem to believe that NBC is concerned with "changing lives" for the better and providing some kind of public service! It's about exploiting people for ratings and hitting on our society's paradigms of prejudice--that fat people must pay for their gluttonous sins and they deserve to get their butts kicked by trainers they will thank later for having been right all along. They were fat, lost failures who were finally shown the way to thin redemption!

      The "bright spot," if there can be one to this addition of children to the show, is that it proves the show is losing steam. A successful TV show does not make changes to a formula that's working. Hopefully, Biggest Loser is on its way out.

    11. Anonymous1:37 pm

      My biggest concerns (and I have many) with the show "Biggest Loser" is the unrealistic expectations it sets up for both viewers wishing to lose weight and others (including those who have biases against the overweight)is the speed and unhealthy manner that the weight is lost. Many of the adults on the show have long histories of "trying everything" to lose the weight and know the pain of losing and regaining. I agree that these younger participants can't fully give consent, nor do I actually think there parents can, and here's why - everyone is so focused on blaming overweight people for their condition, without considering the larger systemic issues. Socioeconomic status is one, and as I have learned from this blog the food industries influence is enormous and extensively profit driven, often at the sake of societies collective health. All of this filters down to our families, and the families of those "Biggest Loser" children will also be exploited for the sake of profit. Some might say I am being too critical - haven't even seen this season - it doesn't matter, as a parent my job is to protect my children, not put them on centre stage to later be objectified, possibly ridiculed by obnoxious peers, and further the internalized BS of the personal responsibility of weight maintainence and shame of weight gain that will likely be drummed into the heads of these children by the "coaches". The personal is political as feminists have taught us and here is just another case. And for the record - I don't consume any of those products, they are all crap.

    12. How handy that I don't eat anything those companies make anyway!

      As a formerly fat kid (I just crossed back under 200lbs for the first time since middle school) I can attest to the ridicule these kids will face when (not if) they put those lbs back on.

      Thank you Yoni for tracking this, I don't have the stomach (pun intended) to watch that show at all.


    13. The program is not based on healthy lifestyle changes. It's the Hollywood version. Healthy weight loss should not require 4 hours of exercise a day - One hour of exercise a day is healthy. One to two pounds weight loss a week is healthy. I doubt that the American Medical Association would give a stamp of approval for the methods used on the program. And it makes it obscene that they now use under-aged kids to promote that kind of unhealthy modeling.

    14. I sent the email and added this:
      This is a serious matter. Your advertising sends a message to the nation that you endorse the method of weight loss endorsed on the Biggest Loser. It is not realistic for the long term lifestyle and many contestants do not maintain their weight loss. The frustration and shame involved with the weight regain is damaging to an adult, can you imagine what it can do to a child? Let's find a way to help our children in a realistic manner. Don't endorse this for profit catastrophe that is the Biggest Loser.

    15. Alexie5:01 pm

      I sent the email and added a stinging note of my own.

      Good on you for this.

      The most shameful part of it is the trainers on the show are aware of how exploitative the whole thing is - participant comments have made that clear. So these people are now being involved with wrecking children for the sakes of their own careers.

      Really disgusting.

    16. Alexie5:07 pm

      Just read the comments on this blog and am bemused by some of the comments which seem very riled by your post. If I were a cynic, I'd ask if there were frightened PRs behind them...

    17. Great idea. Anyone arguing that you are standing in the way of children improving their health do not believe in science or metrics, because there is nothing "healthy" about destroying your metabolism right when you are going through puberty. Being overweight or obese doesn't mean you should throw all yourself under the bus and sacrifice your real health so you look good on TV.

      Keep up the good work!

    18. Anonymous10:46 am

      Ok, children aside I think it's interesting that a few people are throwing around the word exploitation (both adults and children) I hardly think the adults are being "exploited". They signed up for the show. They knew what they were getting into.

    19. Anonymous12:48 pm

      The author's point that The Biggest Loser encourages people toward unhealthy weight loss is as silly as stating that the NFL encourages its watchers to tackle others.

      The Biggest Loser is a fabulously entertaining program that provides real motivation for those battling to lose weight. It's been personally helpful to me.

      I have encouraged all of my friends to combat this loon's insane boycott by buying more from these advertiser's products. I hope anyone who agrees with me will do the same.

      1. Anonymous11:28 pm

        Most of us have not spent a lifetime being told that unless we become football players that our existence is wrong. ON the other hand, anyone in the US who is mid-50's and younger has been told that their bodies even when carrying only a few extra pounds are wrong and must do something about it.

        Glad this is motivating for you and I wish you all the best while enjoying this entertainment and these products.

        But please don't make comparisons that don't add up, or call people loon's who don't see this in the same way that you do.


    20. Thank you for sharing this. I've sent the email and encouraged others to do so.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the best way to get the point across is to target the advertisers, that is where the buck stops.

      So many shows have given all the disclaimers and legal prattle they have to do in order to cover their ***, but then they go on to glamorize doing all of the unhealthy things anyway. This show has NOTHING to do with health and well being and even the marginal inclusion of children on a show like this is a slippery slope. At the least, it provides a bad role model, and at the worst, it puts the psychological and physical health of these children at risk. Childhood is a critical time for learning how to take care of oneself in a healthy way and also a critical time at which any damage done has long term effects throughout a person's adult life as well. Most of the adult contestants on this show will already have stories of being treated badly and even bullied. And most I bet will have already spent hundreds of dollars on fad diets and other treatments that have only resulted in them gaining back more than they lost and feeler sicker and more depressed than ever. So hey, let's put children who are dealing with this pressure already, and ADD the humiliation and pressure of their weight being put in the spotlight on national television in a North American society which is SO harsh and prejudiced towards people with extra weight to start with and claim it's for their own good?? NO!

      If you read the accounts of former adult contestants you KNOW that you cannot trust the show's claims of safety and health precautions, and you certainly cannot trust a 20 second AD for the show telling you everything you want to hear. Strip away all the shiny façades and lies and it's clear that "The Biggest Loser" is, very simply, a TV GAME SHOW and nothing more.

    21. The Biggest Loser obviously is not going to be able to dog these kids like they do their adult participants. The only way I see that NBC is "exploiting" these kids is using them to generate an audience that includes different then a child actor being on any tv show in hopes of gaining a younger audience. As far as how the kids are treated it seems like the show is trying to take a sensible approach to help kids stay active and learn to make better nutritional choices.

      Hope you're not a football fan....if you watched the 2nd episode you've obviously had to add the NFL to your boycott list. No Super Bowl party for you this year.

    22. Chris4:52 pm

      I watched the show and growing up as a fat kid, I can tell you(who probably didn't) that it doesn't get any worse than that alone, so I think anything else could only be better. If just one of those kids manages to turn around and raise their own kids one day with better eating and exercise habits, it's all worth it!

    23. white nectarine10:17 pm

      I received an automatic reply from Clorox (Brita?) from Adam Oberwiser:
      This is in response to your recent communication regarding a Clorox Company advertisement which appeared during The Biggest Loser on NBC. We take every letter under consideration and always appreciate consumer feedback.

      We pride ourselves as being a responsible advertiser and have established strict standards for the selection of television advertising. The Biggest Loser has an established track record of handling weight loss and obesity in an inspiring and responsible manner. We are confident the show will address the childhood obesity epidemic in this same way. We support The Biggest Loser’s efforts to raise awareness that opting for water instead of sugary beverages as a crucial first step in addressing obesity – a message that is echoed by leading voices in the fight against childhood obesity such as the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

      We certainly appreciate your taking the time to write to us. Your opinions truly matter to us and we will continue to exercise special care in the selection of television programs.

      My reply:

      Sorry Adam,
      There is no way that The Biggest Loser is inspiring or responsible. Unless by responsible you mean insipring people to develop eating disorders and being responsible for perpetuating the shaming of fat people.

    24. Anonymous5:44 am

      this sounds like one fat person making excuses for themselves and other fat people.

      1. Anonymous2:58 pm

        Dr. Freedhoff is NOT fat at all! He is very healthy and simply against the show for promoting extreme weight loss techniques.