From left: Lindsay Bravo, 13, Sunny Chandrasekar, 16, and Noah "Blingo"… (NBC )
The National Assn. to Advance Fat Acceptance calls it "appalling" that the new season of "The Biggest Loser" will include young teenagers.
Season 14 of NBC's reality weight-loss competition begins Sunday night and will include three teenagers -- two 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old.
The casting decision has sparked controversy in some circles, with critics worrying that the experience will stigmatize the children involved.
In a statement issued late Friday night NAAFA accused the show of trying to "profit off the bullying and stigmatization of fat kids" and said that lasting harm is done to children by focusing on body size and weight loss.
"I am concerned that The Biggest Loser promotes short-term weight loss and does long-term harm to the bodies, minds, and spirits of many of its contestants and viewers --precipitating eating disorders, weight gain, depression, and weight-based bullying," Barbara Altman Bruno, a NAAFA advisory board member and clinical social worker, said in the statement. "That they are now involving teenagers is appalling."
[Updated, 7:41 p.m., Jan. 5: A representative for the show released the following statement Saturday: "The show itself is the best evidence of our intentions and approach. We encourage people to tune in to "The Biggest Loser" on January 6 to see that the kid participants on the show will follow an age-appropriate program that emphasizes getting healthy rather than numbers on a scale. As you'll see, the kids are handled with great care, support and encouragement to help them live a healthier lifestyle."]
"Biggest Loser" executive producer Lisa Hennessy has defended the casting decision as a necessary first step in starting a national dialogue about childhood obesity. Hennessy said the show is working with childhood obesity experts to proceed with sensitivity, and has urged critics to reserve judgment until watching the first episode. She noted that the children are never weighed or subjected to grueling workouts or low-calorie diets. Instead, the trainers and obesity experts help the kids to live a more active lifestyle and make healthier food choices, she said.
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a New York-based pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist who is consulting this season on the show, encourages parents of overweight children to start a positive dialogue about the issue.
Her comments, compared with the NAAFA's comments, underscore the widespread disagreement about addressing a child's weight.
Dolgoff, author of a children's nutrition guide called "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right," says she believes that overweight children who are given the tools to make healthful choices are less likely to go on to develop disordered eating habits. Staying silent about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity is not an option, she said: "The silence is literally killing our children."
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