Tag Archives: BMI

Wii Fit tells kids to tease fat friends

There was a lot of fuss recently about Wii Fit calling kids “fat”. It’s a claim that was repeated not only in the gaming community but across the mainstream media, too.

The claim is technically false, because the software doesn’t use the word “fat”. It adopts the standard terminology used in conjunction with BMI measurements: underweight, ideal, overweight, and obese. But “fat” makes better headlines, so why let the truth intrude?

My initial reaction was “who cares”, because the weight-tracking aspect of Wii Fit is one of its biggest drawcards. I put it down to parents not paying enough attention to the games their children play.

When I thought about it a bit longer, it became apparent that there really is a problem here.

BMI is not a perfect measurement. It’s a rough guide to your fitness, but it has limitations. It doesn’t know whether your weight is made up of fat or muscle, for instance. And it is basically useless for children, because their physiology is different from an adult’s.

That’s where Wii Fit goes off the rails. One of the first things you’re asked when you register a new Mii is your age – this offers Nintendo a perfect opportunity to either lock young users out of the BMI calculations, or at the very least to explain that the BMI is not necessarily accurate and they should talk to their parents about it.

Instead, children as young as two (yes, two) can have their BMI calculated without any explanation as to its applicability to children. It’s not even clear that the BMI scores displayed are based on the alternative calculations that try to account for the differences in children’s bodies.


But it gets worse. After a couple of weeks playing, the Balance Board avatar popped up one morning and asked me how I thought my fiancée was doing: was she losing or gaining weight? Was her posture better or worse? Notwithstanding Michael Abbott’s warning to be very careful, I jokingly replied that her posture was worse, and was told to tell her what I thought, because — no joke — dogs respond better when they get feedback on their performance.

Yes, Wii Fit told me to tell my fiancée that I thought she was slipping. Let’s apply that to children who use the machine. Wii Fit will not only tell a young girl she’s overweight, it will tell her siblings to tease her about it.