Weighty issues on show

Leading nutritionist Rosemary Stanton has hit out at the latest series of The Biggest Loser, labelling it ''humiliating'' for featuring parents trying to lose weight with their children.

She said the notion of families losing weight together was a sound one but not in such a dramatic fashion and not on television.

''It's totally unrealistic and it's done for entertainment, and the people are just fodder and I really worry about it,'' Dr Stanton said.

Every duo on the Channel Ten show, due to air next month, is a parent and child, with the younger contestants ranging in age from 15 to 24.

''It would be a good message if it was something practical and simple, and slow and steady,'' Dr Stanton said.

''[But] dramatic differences can't be kept up. You can't have someone heckling you the whole time to do this enormous amount of exercise and controlling everything you put in your mouth.''

The show, which is being filmed in Sydney's north-west, has stirred up a debate between health experts about whether parents should take more responsibility for their families' health.

Susie Burrell, a nutritionist, said there was no point ''tip-toeing'' about the issue, saying there were too many big adults and big children in Australia.

''Parents need to own it and they need to manage it. If there's one family who does something about their weight issue because of that show [The Biggest Loser], that's a good outcome,'' she added. ''They have a big audience and they can take away some of the stigma.''

Shannan Ponton, one of the trainers on The Biggest Loser, said he was sick of experts always advocating the ''slow is better'' approach.

''We've got this fear now from doctors and psychologists, a fear of failure; they want to set these stupid low benchmarks for people … they want moderate, moderate, moderate,'' Ponton said. ''As a society, we need to toughen up.''

The show's executive producer, Stuart Clark, admitted the issue about parents working with their children, even older teenagers and those in their 20s, to lose weight was controversial and that those on the show debated whether or not to air a program in this year's format. But in the end they decided it was a pressing social issue.

''We were always hesitant,'' Clark said. ''This isn't about baking a cake or renovating your home, it's about changing lives.''

''We spent a long time debating it but we realised it was the most significant health issue in Australia.''

Todd Nester, 15, the youngest contestant on this series of The Biggest Loser, said he was motivated to go on the show after his sister suggested it. But he said he would not have taken part without his father, Gerald Nester, being there too.

''It's really good having dad there next to me. I couldn't do this by myself,'' he said.

Dr Stanton said she feared for the contestants when the program was over and they returned to their normal lives and had to cope with the sudden changes.

''They're all vulnerable,'' she said. ''I shudder to think, I find it cringe-making that [they] do this to people.

''And I would be particularly worried about anyone who's still at a vulnerable age being involved in that sort of activity,'' she said.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT THIS TIME AROUND . . .

The new series of The Biggest Loser features overweight contestants who are solely parent-and-child combinations. Expect everything from a soft father and his spoilt daughter, to mothers and daughters who look strikingly alike and a working-class dad (who rarely cries) and his very heavy son. The teams go through the usual intensive exercise regimes and diets but also plenty of soul-searching about the role of parents in ignoring or influencing their child’s weight gain. There is many a teary confessional from parents who take the blame.

The story Weighty issues on show first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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