Junkfood Science: Promoting fitness, wellness or prejudice?

April 07, 2007

Promoting fitness, wellness or prejudice?

In the news over recent weeks were the most heartbreaking examples of how children can be hurt when “educational” programs are based on beliefs rather than careful thought and good science.

Channel 10 in Australia is sending six fat teenagers to a fat camp to lose weight in front of the world, supposedly learn “control” and to deal with their “issues.” In response to concerns that this experience will leave these young people mentally scarred and subject them to abuse and judgments, the show was renamed “fit camp” this week and is calling itself, not at reality show, but a documentary — as if claiming it’s about health and “fitness” and about “an important public health issue of childhood obesity” will make a lick of difference!

It is increasingly common to believe that being an athlete, movie starlet or television personality gives someone expertise on childhood obesity and “healthy lifestyles.” Even Shaqueill O’Neal, Miami Heat star, will host his own reality show for fat kids to lose weight this summer.

But one of the most tragic new reality shows is the camp coming on The Simple Life which will feature Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as camp counselors. It’s hard to know who is being exploited more, the troubled stick-thin starlets dealing with their own weight and eating issues or the fat campers. It’s positively surreal that these two are going to be giving advice on healthy eating at the camp and set up as examples of what anyone should emulate. Oh, but the show’s producers say they won’t be working at a “fat camp,” they will be working for “a wellness camp focused on right diet, yoga, nutrition and exercise.” Even the fact Ms Richie had to be hospitalized for hypoglycemia during the taping of the show didn’t shake any sense into the show’s producers.

Commentary: When will such exploitation end? When did it become a form of entertainment to watch the humiliation, ridicule and abuse of young people — or those less privileged in our society, those enduring personal tragedies or those suffering from private issues — for a national audience? Why aren’t more people screaming in outrage? Why are people continuing to watch these shows, raising their ratings and helping to perpetuate them? What kind of society are we becoming?

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