Paging Dr. Dolgoff —
Trigger Warning: This post is all about The Biggest Loser, so you know it’s chock full o’ awful.
Last night began a new era in terrible: The Biggest Loser, season 14.
As our readers know, I have a long and contemptuous relationship with The Biggest Loser. So, it’s no surprise that I’m already seething over the latest gimmick of a show that relishes in the physical and emotional abuse of fatties.
This season’s “hook”? Fat kids.
It’s only natural, really. It seems our entire culture has decided that the best way to wage the War on Fat is to make it a Children’s Crusade. Last year, the bar for execrable dreck was set to a new low by Strong4Life by insulting and dehumanizing fat kids with their heartless billboard campaign.
This year, the fat fighting fad evolved to target fat kids while appearing humane. After all, regardless of how much people hate fatties, there’s still some semblance of appreciation that unleashing the fury of Bob “Hissy Fit” Harper and Jillian “Puke Trough” Michaels on young children is a bit harsh.
And so, we’re introduced to Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, pediatrician and creator of the “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” system for kids. In short, the program divides foods into green light (healthy foods), yellow light (moderately healthy foods), red light (least healthy foods) and free foods. Then each color is restricted to a certain amount per day or week (two reds per week). Because, as Dr. Dolgoff explains, “Using colors instead of calories makes healthy eating easy and fun.”
Caloric restriction for kids, now in Technicolor. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
As people have grown concerned with the concept of kids on TBL, and even well-respected anti-obesity advocates like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff have spoken out against it, they have turned to social media.
Golda Poretsky was the first to call for a concerted campaign asking NBC to stop exploiting children. Then, last week, people began addressing Dr. Dolgoff directly through Twitter.
At first, Dr. Dolgoff seemed intent on battling the outrage herself, reassuring people that the kids weren’t counting calories, they weren’t turning into gym rats, and they weren’t doing weigh-ins. It was her job to make sure the kids were treated right.
Not only did she respond to comments on Twitter, but she offered to call and speak with anyone who had a problem with the show, including myself. Dr. Dolgoff gave me an email address to send my number, which I did. In the meantime, I learned that Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat was also scheduled to speak with her last Friday.
But Friday morning I noticed something odd: Dr. Dolgoff’s response to me on Twitter was missing. In fact, she had wiped her account clean of any responses to her critics. I received no response to my email request for a call and learned that Ragen’s call was cancelled as well.
By Friday afternoon, anyone who had contacted Dr. Dolgoff received the following form response:
In thinking about it further, I think the show itself is the best evidence of our intentions and approach. So I think it’s best if you can 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. Thank you.
This left a lot of us confused. Dr. Dolgoff seemed intent on reassuring all concerned that the health of the kids was her first priority, and that she was there to ensure that the kids were treated right. In fact, in the following video for TBL, Dr. Dolgoff explains her role on the show:
For me, the most telling comment comes early on:
They had contacted me to become more involved in the season, not only to use the nutritional program, but so that I could help to advise them on ways to work with the children without exploiting them.
In other words, “Yeah, we exploit the adults, but we’re not so heartless as to exploit children too!”
Or, more accurately, “Yeah, we exploit the adults, but we know we’d get reamed if we looked like we’re exploiting children too!”
Dr. Dolgoff then gets into the Magic Statistics Machine and throws out some spooky data:
One out of every three children in our country is either overweight or obese, and at risk for medical problems due to their weight. And one of the issues is that most parents don’t recognize the problem in their own child. They did a study, 75% of parents of obese children think their children are either normal weight or even underweight.
There’s two very interesting statistics in there. The first is that one-third of kids are overweight or obese. Just as the definition of “overweight” changed for adults in 1998, when the BMI cutoff shifted down from 28 to 25, a similar adjustment was made to pediatric definitions.
In 2007, an expert committee recommended changing the cutoff points for obesity and overweight. Before, a child whose weight was between the 85th and 94th percentile was considered “at risk for overweight”; between 95th and 97th percentile was “overweight”; and greater than the 98th percentile was “obese.” After the committee’s recommendations were accepted, 85-94 became overweight, 95-97 became obese, and 98 and above became morbidly obese.
The other statistic (“75% of parents of obese children think their children are either normal weight or even underweight”) should be a familiar to those who were around for last year’s Strong4Life campaign. S4L used the exact same statistic throughout the campaign in various incarnations, which I document in this S4L overview. In spite of the ubiquitous stat, Strong4Life never released a citation for this claim so we could verify it, and I have yet to find a single legitimate source that backs it up.
So, why is Dr. Dolgoff citing it? Well, the answer seems to be that she was a supporter of Strong4Life and she took them at their statistical word in a post justifying the humiliation of fat kids for the greater good:
What’s more, 75 percent of parents with obese kids don’t acknowledge their children as having weight issues. We all seem to think this is somebody else’s problem.
It seems that once she picked up this obscure data point, she’s been loathe to let it go. Not only that, she’s added her own little twist to it. Not only are the vast majority of parents clueless as to their child’s obesity, but some even think their fat kid is underweight! See? That’s why we have to put kids on The Biggest Loser!
Just like Dr. Dolgoff’s futile attempt at sugarcoating the nefarious nature of Strong4Life, she’s now doing the same thing for The Biggest Loser: playing defense against claims of exploitation.
But there’s a problem.
Many people have taken Dr. Dolgoff at her word and assumed that she is somehow being exploited by TBL herself, and that she has the best of intentions. Honestly, I think she does to a certain extent. After all, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, right?
I, too, was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I assumed she was this kind-hearted pediatrician who created a well-intentioned (if highly-flawed) program that is supposed to help kids lose weight without developing an eating disorder. But then, I found something very interesting.
Dr. Dolgoff also participated in round table discussions for the National Institutes of Health and Subway Restaurants’ We Can! Childhood Obesity Prevention Program and is a spokesperson for Splenda. [emphasis mine]
Okay, so she’s a spokesperson for Splenda, the sucralose-based sweetener. Now, it is true that she’s allowed to be a spokesperson for products that she believes are healthy. Maybe she appears in a commercial for Splenda wearing a lab coat and saying, “As a pediatrician who treats fat kids, I love Splenda” or some such nonsense.
But here’s where it starts to get icky.
Google “Joanna Dolgoff Splenda” and you’ll find post after post of her work, many of which include recipes with Splenda.
- Green Light Pumpkin Pie and Green Light Cran-Berries Sauce with SPLENDA!
- Sweet Potato with SPLENDA!
- Pumpkins with SPLENDA!
And in an article on nutrition, Dr. Dolgoff helpfully informs us that Splenda is now available with fiber! It’s great, she tells us, and she uses it ALL THE TIME!
Hell, last weekend, she snorted Splenda off Dolvett Quince’s rock-hard abs. SPLENDA!
Again, Dr. Dolgoff is allowed to be the spokesperson for Splenda and to make every single recipe a tribute to the wonders of Splenda. But considering the fact that a blogger must clearly disclose any free products I have received for review, you would think that the spokesperson for a product would be required to do the same.
You might even say that a physician, whose office lends an even greater perception of authority, should be held to an even greater standard of disclosure than a lowly blogger such as myself.
Instead, Dr. Dolgoff seems perfectly content with promoting her product without notifying us that she’s shilling for Splenda.
Which brings us to the grossest, most disturbing part of this whole deal.
The primary reason The Biggest Loser chose Dr. Joanna Dolgoff as its resident childhood obesity expert is that she developed a lifestyle program for kids, outlined in her best-selling book.
Along with the instructions for following Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, Dr. Dolgoff includes Green Light recipes for families to use. And guess what makes a special appearance, according to one of her reviewers on Amazon:
[S]he uses a lot of Splenda. So if you have reservations about this you will want to use something else.
That’s right, kids. If you want to get healthy, if you want to be one of Dr. Dolgoff’s before-and-after success stories, just substitute sugar for Splenda and you’ll be skinny in no time!
This is what I find to be most disturbing about the role that Dr. Dolgoff has taken in this Biggest Loser charade. You cannot be the guardian against child exploitation when you are so willing to exploit kids yourself.
In the introductory video above, Dr. Dolgoff says the following:
So, we need to have a national discussion about this. Everybody’s afraid to talk about it, and as we stay silent on the issue our kids are getting sicker and sicker. So I’m thrilled that the Biggest Loser has said, “We’re going to talk about this. We’re going to talk about it in a kind way and give viewers tools to make healthy changes on their own.
After I finish laughing my ass off at the idea that people are “afraid” to talk about childhood obesity, given the sheer amount of media coverage given to the subject, I would like to tell Dr. Dolgoff that I am absolutely ready to have a discussion about this subject.
Unfortunately, she has severed all contact with her critics (I’m guessing under the orders of NBC), rendering a true “discussion” impossible. I would like to talk to her about how the problem with kids dieting isn’t the word “diet,” it’s the use of caloric restriction to reduce a child’s weight regardless of the method employed; I would like to talk to her about how 12 in 100,000 children develop type 2 diabetes, while 2,700 in 100,000 suffer from an eating disorder (ED); I would like to talk to her about how ED specialists are seeing younger and younger kids because children are too young to distinguish between “healthy lifestyle” and “weight loss”; and finally, I would like to talk to her about the fact that her nuanced diet will be aired alongside the rest of The Biggest Loser, as families watch together, exposing kids to all the extreme methods employed by the adults to “get healthy.”
I would like to talk to her about these things, but she have turned us away. And so, I am encouraging everyone with an outlet to share your discomfort with this show, and feel free to provide a link to your blog in the comments below. Also feel free to use the “Paging Dr. Dolgoff” graphic above.
And most importantly, until and unless The Biggest Loser removes children from its show, we will be supporting the boycott begun by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. Check out this post to get information on which companies are contributing to this train wreck.
Last year, we banded together to send a message to Strong4Life that it is wrong to shame fat kids with billboards, and we won. This year, we need everyone to join us in sending a strong and clear message that exploiting fat kids on national television is intolerable. I hope you will join us.