'Honey Boo Boo' reality show shows darker reality on health

This past week marked the season finale of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the cable TV reality show featuring a sassy, overweight 7-year-old living with her sassy, overweight family in rural Georgia.


This past week also was the last full week of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Coincidence? We may never know.

For those of you who haven’t seen this show, count yourself among the fortunate. However, you won’t be completely spared because I’m about to describe it to you.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo stars Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, the youngest of four girls who live with their unmarried parents in the Wilkinson County town of McIntyre (population 650). Honey Boo Boo and her mother, June Shannon, won reality-show fame as an over-the-top mom-and-daughter beauty pageant team on another execrable reality show, Toddlers and Tiaras. This new show is a spin-off of that show.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has shocked people nationwide. It shocks folks in the South especially because it plays up absolutely every negative stereotype about rural living. Coarse manners? Check. Dumpster-diving? Check. Pig living in the house? Check.

The show’s producers apparently thought the family’s Southern accents are so thick that the dialogue requires subtitles. I can understand the family just fine, but then again, I grew up on a dirt road in south Georgia and that makes me bilingual.

It also makes me a tad sympathetic. If this family’s dysfunctional, it’s not because of the genuine love they have for one another. But, as The Hollywood Reporter correctly pointed out, “Everybody loves to laugh at the cliché, and reality shows love to exploit that.”

There’s one particular aspect of the show, though, that simply isn’t funny.

Honey Boo Boo’s family? They’re killing themselves. And the exaggeration is only slight.

The TV show is a veritable video primer for rotten health choices. Just a few examples:

• To pep herself up before performing at her kiddie beauty pageants, 7-year-old Honey Boo Boo will steadily sip a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull.

• On at least one occasion, family members consumed puffed cheese snacks for breakfast.

• On a visit to a barbecue restaurant, when offered a meal choice consisting of a meat and two side dishes, Honey Boo Boo asked if the two side dishes also could be meat.

• The family recipe for spaghetti consists of mixing a tub of margarine with a bottle of ketchup, which is then poured over boiled spaghetti noodles.

• Past attempts at losing weight have been unsuccessful. On the last attempt, spanning several weeks, the mother lost 1.6 pounds, and the daughters gained weight. The mother has touted flatulence as a weight-loss technique.

Of course, I could be overreacting. I’m no medical expert. I mean, I’m just a newspaper guy. It’s not like I’m, say, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University or something.

So I decided to ask Chris Edwards. He actually is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University. What does he think of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

“After I picked my jaw up off the ground?” Dr. Edwards asked. “Any time I’ve ever watched any clips of it, it just astonishes me, the level of inappropriate diet and activities.”

So it’s not just me.

Kids literally drink in these bad habits. Little kids swill sugar-packed juice at every meal. Older kids throw back energy drinks like water. And since we’re in the South, sweet tea is just as bad. Let’s not even get into that Mountain Dew-Red Bull cocktail.

“Overall they’ve been shown to increase the chance of obesity, which as everyone knows increases the chance for a host of other medical conditions,” Dr. Edwards said. “They’re incredibly bad for your teeth, and it doesn’t provide any actual nutrients other than just sugar.”

So let’s say Honey Boo Boo is your patient, Doc. How do you treat her?

Incrementally, he said. Start with a goal of cutting down on sugary drinks, with the goal of bringing the intake down to zero. Substitute water or milk – beverages to keep her well-hydrated and supplied with calcium and other vitamins. Then tackle other health issues one at a time.

“If Honey Boo Boo came into my office and I told her everything that she needed to do to be healthy, it’s just impossible for a family to make that many life choices,” Dr. Edwards explained. “But you start to really think of it stepwise – sugary drinks, and next time we’ll work on snack food while we’re watching TV at night, then we’ll work on junk food in general. Then from there talk more about home-cooked meals, where you can really start to have more control over sodium intake and the natural fresh
foods that provide the
nutrients that every child needs.”

Are families like Honey Boo Boo’s the exception or the new, sugary rule when it comes to family health?

“I like to at least hope that it’s not the norm – that this is just an extreme family that some people find entertaining to watch,” Dr. Edwards said. “I personally find it sad to watch. It makes me sad that we seem to celebrate this type of behavior. Even if we are kind of all joking and laughing about it, we still are promoting it because it’s on TV.”

I mentioned that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo wrapped up its first season this past week. But word came down Wednesday that cable channel TLC has ordered new episodes of the show – specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In other words, get
ready to see more poor health decisions – mountains of holiday candy and enough holiday food to choke a horse.

And if TLC thought it could get higher ratings by actually choking a horse, you might see that exploited next season as well.



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