Jan. 4, 2013 at 10:23 AM ET
When "The Biggest Loser" returns for season 14, viewers will notice a couple of big changes. For instance, trainer and resident tough talker Jillian Michaels will be back on the show after a two-season break. But that's not the only difference that will have fans talking.
For the first time in the weight loss competition's history, kids will be part of the show. Ranging in age from 13 to 16, the young participants will shift the focus of the show to the epidemic of childhood obesity while trying to change their own lives. And according to host Alison Sweeney, it's a good move for "Loser" and for the kids.
"We're really getting into it. We want to have the (childhood obesity) conversation," Sweeney explained during a Friday morning visit to TODAY. "We think it needs to be a national conversation about helping our kids get healthy. The statistics are pretty staggering, and they're getting worse. And we found some amazing kids that we know America's going to fall in love with -- just like we already have."
Unlike the grown-up contestants, who'll be present in the upcoming season as well, the teens won't actually live on the ranch or have to face weekly weigh-ins.
"We're just here to inspire them, to motivate them and teach them and their families to lead healthier lives," Sweeney said.
For those who wonder whether or not it's really a good idea to put kids who are struggling with their weight in the spotlight of prime-time TV, the host insists the move is purely positive.
"The truth is I think they're already being bullied; they're already having a hard time," she told TODAY. "We want to support them and be their friend, and find them a new conversation to have about what we can do right. And they are inspiring their families and their communities, and other kids that watch. It's been fantastic so far."
And it's that sense of motivating more than just the teens on the show that encourages Sweeney.
"We want to get these kids healthy and we want to help parents start at the beginning and help their kids be healthy all along," she said.
Which is exactly what attracted Michaels to return to the competition.
"We are going to be showing America things they can do to help impact the health of our younger generation, which for the first time, in conceivably the (history of the) world, kids now have a lesser life expectancy than their parents," the trainer said in a preview clip for the new season. "The best thing we can do though, as parents, is acknowledge areas where we can improve and work on it."
The season premiere of "The Biggest Loser" airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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