Saturday, September 16, 2006

Unfit kids

I watched with dismay the first episode of Channel 4's programme 'Ian Wright's Unfit Kids.' What an example of well-meant, blundering amateurism. I have no doubt that Ian Wright genuinely wants to promote fitness in youngsters but this programme has taken on a group with complex physical, social and emotional problems and one well-intentioned former footballer is not going to solve those problems in six months. In fact, he is far more likely to do a great deal of harm.

I am reliably informed, by an inside source at one of the schools involved in the programme, that the initial brief was to work with a group of youngsters who persistently refuse to join in sports activities. The intention was to motivate them to enjoy sport and to improve their fitness. For reasons not disclosed in the programme, Ian Wright ended up with only one youngster fitting the original criteria and seven others who are seriously overweight.

Instead of a group consisting of kids who don't like sport, or who hate teamwork, are plain lazy or just won't co-operate in any way in school - challenges enough for anyone! - Ian Wright has ended up with individuals with a wide range of problems including poor nutrition, low self-esteem, a history of failure, social exclusionand possible health problems, to mention only the obvious.

We saw within the first few minutes of the first episode that there was no strategic plan, no funding and no expert support available. The vulnerability of the children and their parents was obvious. It was also obvious that there is little hope that the series will end with a group of happy, well-adjusted, fit and slimmed-down youngsters. So what is Channel 4 to do? Scrap the venture or exploit those vulnerable people?

What must it have been like for those children to go into school on Wednesday morning, their weight now public knowledge, their homes exposed, their weaknesses revealed? I think the programme's title should be changed to 'Unfit Adults.'


  1. Dear Maureen, I am excited that your predictions have been not entirely correct. The final episode of the program has proven it to be a great success. At least I feel it has been, I wonder if you agree or still stick to your original feeling?
    This evening saw the third and final episode and I believe that the results of the marathon and enthusiasm of the kids speak for themselves.
    It is a dangerous game as the outcome of such a program could seriously affect any of the participants' confidence and self-esteem. Does Ian Wright have the right to take on such a gamble?
    I personally found the amateurish approach refreshing. Ian Wright has a vision, and this series could well be (and hopefully will be!) the first step towards a broader program looking at helping kids in our schools. He has vision and he has passion, two vital ingredients in any successful enterprise. He showed courage by allowing himself to be vulnerable on national TV. We saw him dealing with situations and crises as they arose. Not some slick pre-packaged program where success is assured from the word go, we experience his dealing with challenges just as his participents do.
    I sincerely hope Ian Wright is able to fix funding for further programs across the country. Then the kids will have the knowledge that their success has also led to the success of the program.

  2. Gary:
    I am glad that the programme had a satisfactory outcome. I never doubted Ian Wright's sincere concern or commitment but I still cannot feel comfortable with exposing children's problems on television.
    As I understand it, the original concept was to tackle the problem of disaffection from sport among young people, not to deal with seriosly overweight children. Having an iconic figure like Ian Wright to make sport more interesting and attractive was a great idea. It would be wonderful if more people with his vision and enthusiasm were to get involved in schools. But would they do it without the television cameras?
    Reality television has to concentrate on the individual rather than the problem in order to engage the audience. It shows the edited highlights, not the daily graft, so gives an impression of quick fix solutions.
    So, I'm glad it ended well but I'm not sold on the idea.

  3. Or maybe they just made it look like it ended well. They were hardly going to admit failure and strangle Wright's latest career at birth either way.

    Like monix, I'm not keen on holding fat kids up to ridicule for the sake of TV entertainment. Grown-up (technically, if not mentally, anyway) 'celebrities' choosing to be humiliated on Fat Club in an attempt to stay in the public eye is one thing: overweight children blobbing around for their friends to laugh at is another.


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