Photo Credit: courtesy of the Style Network
The much-hyped Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back debuts tonight, August 9, 2010, at 8/7 p.m. CT on the Style Network. This comes at a time when new research shows children as young as 7 years old are showing signs of puberty, a result of the staggering increases in childhood obesity.
At first glance, the image chosen to represent the new 8-part docu-series Too Fat For 15 bears a shocking resemblance to ABC Family’s dramedy HUGE. It turns out, the shows are quite similar: Too Fat chronicles five obese teens enrolled at Wellspring Academy, a weight-loss boarding school in North Carolina. (Wellspring helps students continue their education while losing weight.) The star students -- the youngest is 11; the heaviest, Tanisha a 17-year-old girl weighs 510 pounds and was in such need of help that she had to be driven to the cafeteria which at the top of a hill. She wound up losing 150 pounds in four months. The two of them shed a combined 500 pounds during filming. '
Viewers will watch the emotional ups and downs of these kids as they are pushed through grueling fitness routines, regular weigh-ins, and learn about food, from how to eat to why they eat. The kids’ parents are also involved, with the show helping them explore their own issues with food and the role they’ve played in their children’s pain.
I give these kids all the credit in the world for allowing cameras to document their experiences. Weight Watchers doesn’t even make you weigh in in front of your fellow members to help protect privacy, and yet these teenagers are putting it all out there for the whole world to see. Kids can be incredibly cruel, and being an overweight teenager is probably one of the worst things in the world in terms of getting teased and ostracized. But 14-year-old Scotty, who starts the show at 366 pounds after being told by doctors that he could die if he fails to lose weight, and 17-year-old Tanisha ultimately prove their haters wrong.
Only time will tell if Too Fat turns out to be a Biggest Loser for teenagers. I will admit, on the Today Show, Tanisha was absolutely beaming when Matt Lauer asked her how she feels after shedding 150 pounds. ("I have a whole new freedom in my movements." I was particularly happy that Lauer asked the mothers on the show about their role in their kids’ obesity. I don’t believe many parents overfeed their children with malicious intent, or serve them fast food thinking, "I cannot wait until my children grow dangerously obese and are at risk for heart disease and cancer!" Many of them simply lack the education to know better or the financial means to do anything about it. But they are still largely responsible, particularly when their kids are too young to know any better. Remember Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? In Huntington, West Virginia, named the nation's unhealthiest city by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewers met the Edwards family, a homemaker mom, truck driver dad and three children who were all obese. Oliver took the family to the hospital for a checkup, something the kids didn’t typically have access to. (The father attributes it to being busy and the belief that, "If it’s not broke, don't fix it.")
Only his kids were broken. They all exhibited signs of Type 2 Diabetes. The daughter was just four years old but looked eight, as her body had matured early due to increased estrogen levels. Twelve-year-old son, Justin, was at risk for high blood pressure, arthritis, heart attacks, blindness, amputation and having his life shortened by 40 years. Mom and Dad were mortified; the mother cried, explaining that she felt responsible.
Which she is. She and her husband put fried food on the table, night after night. They sent their kids to a school where pizza is served for breakfast and French fries count as a vegetable serving. After Oliver supplied the family with enough fresh ingredients and recipes to cook wholesome, from-scratch foods for a week, she still gave them McDonald’s. It was the parents' fault. If we saw a parent in a mall slapping her child, we would deem it abuse, no? But if we saw her buying a Happy Meal for her obese daughter, would that be any different? Children rely on their parents to pave the way to a healthy future. Whether malevolent or not, something needs to be done.
I’m so glad Michelle Obama has taken up childhood obesity has her major initiative. The implications reach way beyond being made fun of in the school cafeteria. Children are developing adult onset diabetes and growing breasts while still watching Dora the Explorer. They’re physically uncomfortable and emotionally miserable. Childhood obesity registers far more pain than the scale can possibly reveal. Hopefully Too Fat conveys that message in a way that hits home for parents and kids alike.
Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back premiers tonight, August 9, 2010, at 8/7 p.m. CT on the Style Network.
PS One question for Wellspring’s administration: You repeatedly maintain that you are not a “fat camp,” and yet, your URL is http://www.wellspringacademies.com/carolina_teen_fat_camp.html What’s up with that?)
Do you think parents are ultimately responsible for their children's obesity? Chime in below.