Shaq’s Big Challenge: Real Problems, Questionable Solutions

June 25, 2007

by Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director

It can’t be a bad thing when one of the world’s biggest sports stars elevates the problems of childhood obesity. In Shaquille O’Neal’s new “reality” television show, “Shaq’s Big Challenge,” Shaq won’t be taking on the NBA, but will be taking on America’s youth –- and trying to make them fit.

He does a pretty good job of hitting some of the important issues, though he seems to be lacking in his solutions.

What was the first thing that he said when asked by ESPN about the problems of childhood obesity? “[O]nly six percent of all schools in America have mandatory gym. When I was growing up, I changed schools 10 times, and they all had mandatory PE.”

Shaq goes on to talk about the prevalence of fast food, limited physical activity –- all the right issues. Bringing in high profile stars is great a raising awareness and it can engage parents and help them understand these important issues.

However, the solutions the show comes up with include putting kids through tough drills and a mini exercise boot camp (check out this review in the L.A. Times). Binge exercising and dieting don’t work very well for adults in the long-term, and I have a hard time thinking they will work for 12-year-old kids.

Hopefully this will help the six children in the show, but sustainable solutions need to integrate parents, schools and the community.

These changes do not need to be dramatic and painful, but they do need to be sustainable and long-term. Let’s walk more, play fewer computer games, eat less junk food, eat more fresh vegetables, learn about cooking and nutrition and learn to enjoy physical activity. 

The only “reality” depicted in this show are the problems of childhood obesity, not the solutions.