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Teen's Struggle with Weight Subject of New Reality TV Show


ATHENS, Ill. (CBS/Dean Olsen, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register) Even though one in every three American children is overweight, it's not easy when you're one of those kids, especially in front of a nationwide audience.

Scott Basso, 14, and his family are a little nervous about the potential ramifications of a new reality TV series on the Style Network.

Scott's personal struggles with weight and self-esteem are an important part of the show, which tracks five teens who spent several months this year at a special North Carolina boarding school for overweight adolescents.

Scott's parents, Susan and Bill Basso, both of whom underwent Lap-Band weight-loss surgery in 2009, saw their son's grades drop, beginning in fifth grade, as he spiraled into depression while being teased by his peers about his weight. That concern led the Bassos to Wellspring Academy in Brevard, N.C., where the series is based.

Susan said she hopes the series brings more awareness about a huge public-health issue -- not more taunts for Scott.

Despite their anxiety, Scott and his mother said they don't regret his participation in "Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back," a documentary-style series of eight weekly episodes.

"I know it will help a lot of people," said Scott, who hopes to return to Wellspring this fall.

Wellspring, part of a for-profit company in California that runs two residential academies and 11 summer camps in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, focuses on helping adolescents lose weight and keeping it off by changing their long-term behavior when it comes to eating and exercise.

The six-year-old organization has been unusually successful at helping teens lose weight and maintain weight loss after they leave.

Seventy percent of Wellspring clients maintain their weight loss or continue to lose weight based on six and 12-month checkups, according to chief marketing officer John Gordon. He said Wellspring's results have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

"Everything we're doing is about changing behavior," he said.

Scott left Athens Junior High in January, in the middle of his eighth-grade year, and spent four months at Wellspring after his mother, desperate for an immersion-type program that could help her son, found the organization on the Internet.

Scott wasn't eligible for weight-loss surgery in the Springfield area, his mother said.

Standing 5 feet 10 inches, Scott weighed in at 366 pounds when he arrived at Wellspring. He was down to 291 pounds -- 75 pounds lighter -- by the time he left in late May.

"He worked hard for this," Susan said. "I didn't send him to 'fat camp.' He made the choice. He wanted to go. He's not going on a diet for the rest of his life. He's changing his lifestyle."

Scott and his parents were asked to be part of the reality series only days before Scott arrived. Although the cameras sometimes added stress to an already stressful situation, the attention also helped many of the teens succeed, Gordon said.

The series follows five teens, some lighter than Scott and some heavier.

Scott's mother said she hopes other parents learn from her family's experience and take seriously their children's weight gain, and the depression that can accompany it.

"It's the elephant in the room," she said. "Don't ignore it. Don't think it's going to go away."

What do you think about Scott's parents' decision to broadcast his struggle with weight on the show? What do you think will result from this television show? Will Scott be taunted further? Let us know what you think about broadcasting weight loss. Do the rules differ for adults and children?