Worried about those extra pounds you gained over the holidays? Don’t be! According to a study released last week by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), those pounds might save your life. Well, sort of.
JAMA analyzed approximately three million adults for the study and found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had “less risk of dying than people of normal weight.” In news that is probably not news to most of us, then, being kinda fat doesn’t mean you’re going to die. Surprise!
Now to be clear, this study isn’t saying that all fat people are going to outlive all skinny people. What the findings suggest is that weight isn’t as much of a mortality indicator as some scientists thought it was, and that sometimes a few extra pounds can help you live longer and be healthier. Or, in other words, health is about HEALTH, and not about WEIGHT. A healthy 200-pound person might just live longer than her unhealthy 100-pound counterpart for all sorts of reasons, none of which have to do with the numbers either person sees on the scale.
Okay, so we can stop having those bogus, concern-trolling conversations about how we’re worried over fat people’s “health” now, right? Maybe we should just embrace Health at Every Size and admit that a lot of our culture’s weight obsession has to do with fatphobia and a standard of beauty that prizes thinness above health? And that said thinness isn’t necessarily healthy (thought it could be—as common sense would dictate, every person is different)? Yeah, fat chance.
As if on cue, NBC’s The Biggest Loser premiered the same day the JAMA study was released. Already known for promoting dangerous weight-loss tactics under the banner of “health,” the latest season comes with a fat-shaming twist: kids.
Okay, it’s one thing to shout at willing adult participants until they cry and run them on the treadmill until they fall off and vomit. Yes, it contributes to a culture of fat-shaming and many contestants gain their weight back, but at least we can hope most adults know what they’re in for when it comes to reality television, and these folks are trying to lose weight so they can gain $250,000. But kids? FOR THE LOVE OF JILLIAN MICHAELS’ ABS THEY ARE KIDS. Says the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) on the addition of these youngsters to the show:
The Biggest Loser, well known for its abusive tactics, should not be allowed to profit off the bullying and stigmatization of fat kids. That this series would be developed despite the evidence of the harm done to children by focusing on body size and weight loss is unconscionable. There is no doubt that the promotion of a healthy, long-term lifestyle is not the primary purpose of this television show, but rather to grab ratings and profits for the network and its producers.
The three kids function more as mascots than contestants so far, getting pep talks from Jillian and participating in workouts. Though NBC says they won’t punish at or yell at the teenage Losers the way they do at the adults—and the teens can’t be eliminated—what the hell kind of messed-up message does that send? The kids are right there while the adults cry and barf and get sent home for not losing enough weight! They get it! And if the show really is about “promoting a healthy lifestyle,” then why are the teens treated differently? Is it because The Biggest Loser is actually about sensationalizing and demonizing fat people, not about helping them? (Hint: Yes. Yes it is.)
At one point in last week’s season premiere, Jillian Michaels talks to the three kids about bullying, and tells them she’s here to help. While Michaels may have the best of intentions, her brand of helping means changing the kids to conform to the bullies’ standards, not challenging the norms that make the bullying okay in the first place. It’s fine if teens want to eat healthy and get in shape—go for it you healthy teens!—but exploiting fat kids on national television in an environment that is known to be unrealistic and risky just so NBC can get more ratings is all kinds of wrong. And the more research we see, the more we learn that fat and health aren’t as closely related as we thought—which makes The Biggest Loser: Chubby Kid Edition even worse.