For the last few years I’ve been a fan of the television show The Biggest Loser. At first the name of the show really turned me off, as I assumed it was just a (another) “lowest common denominator” reality show like “The Swan” or the original “Extreme Makeover” (before the Home Edition). As it turns out, the show with a negative name happens to be a very positive, educational, inspirational and life-changing show for many. I like the fact that the trainers focus on the overall journey to good health, and take a holistic approach, understanding that for any long-term success, some work to confront and deal with real psychological challenges must be done (aka what’s underlying the destructive behavior/eating). And yes, the transformations (mind, body and spirit) are amazing.
The new season started a few weeks ago, and this year they have included three children in the process. The kids are aligned with a trainer and team, but unlike the adults do not live on “the ranch”, nor can they be voted off. The producers did a really nice job of selecting kids with great personalities, spunk and charisma – – in addition to being significantly over weight and dealing day-to-day with how brutal other children can be at that age when you’re different and have a visible flaw to attack. Biingo (yes “ii”), Lindsay and Sunny have you in the palm of their hands cheering them on from the first moments they appear on screen. The show is only a couple of weeks in, and I’m really hoping the work with the kids will provide hope to other children with weight problems, and more importantly hold a mirror up to parents whose behaviors driving their children to obesity.
In the last episode, they had a childhood obesity quiz as one of the challenges. One question asked what percent of parents with children who are clinically obese describe their child as being normal weight and build? The answer was 75%. Now I don’t have access to the survey, sample size, etc., but looking around America at the moment, it’s clear that parents, who by nature tend to lose objectivity when it comes to their children, are blind to what’s going on. Later in the show, they sent a doctor and nutritionist to each of the three children’s homes to speak with the families and help ensure that the “home environment” was poised for change, in order to support each child’s journey. It was jaw dropping. These families knew their child was unhealthy enough to need support from a show called “The Biggest Loser”, and knew they were going to be visited by a nutritionist. What the families had on their coffee tables, counters and in their pantries and refrigerators was a mass of high fat, high calorie foods with zero nutritional value. Cookies, cake, ice cream, canisters of frosting, hot pockets, doughnuts, and liters upon liters of sugary soda. In addition to kitchen pantries that would make Willy Wonka sick to his stomach, two of the families mentioned that they typically ate fast foot five or more nights a week, because they were so busy. It was jaw dropping, and for the most part the contestants families were as obese as they were, so it was clear that there was an incredibly unhealthy pedagogy being passed on from generation to generation.
Parenting is a tough job, so I’m not here to judge these individuals or their situations. On the contrary these families have signed up to make a change and I think for the most part they understand the fact that the journey involves the entire family. I also get that the economy is tight and that fast food and junk food in general has become incredibly inexpensive, relatively speaking, and that it’s ubiquitous and convenient. However, to a large extent parents in America are “falling asleep at the switch” on the nutrition, fitness and health side of the responsibility equation. As a parent your job is to guide, nurture and protect your children as you raise them to be positive members of society. This includes protecting them from themselves, “foodco” marketers, and laziness, so that they aren’t encumbered by fat, so they don’t fall prey to illness, and so they live full, active lives. It’s been highly publicized in the media (and during this season’s Biggest Loser) that based on the current childhood obesity trends in the U.S., this will the first generation with a projected life expectancy that is shorter than that of their parents. From a health perspective, I think what parents are doing that is fueling the current childhood obesity problem is not much different than them giving their children 2 packs of cigarettes every day. It’s simply unacceptable.
As parents you set the tone (and the rules) for what your children put in their body, and how they spend their time each day. You control the money. You control what groceries enter your home. You control what constitutes an acceptable meal, snack, or treat. You can also dictate how much time is spent sitting in front of a screen vs. actual activity. The challenge is that for it to work, these rules and mandates need to be role modeled, because as they say in business “the tone is set from the top.”
I’m hope this season of The Biggest Loser is a drop-in-the-bucket when it comes to further education and actions relating to childhood obesity, and what can be done to reverse this tragic trend in America. In the spirit of smallsteps2health, I would ask anyone reading this who has children to think about the behaviors you role model every day, and whether (or not) you’re helping your children develop “healthy” habits one decision (and meal) at a time.
Small steps add up!!!