LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Alison Sweeney, host of the NBC network's weight loss TV series "The Biggest Loser," has worked with the show's contestants since 2007, supporting them as they drop pounds and learn to lead a healthier way of life.
Now, Sweeney is taking on more weight issues by teaming up with dog food company Hill's Science Diet for the second annual Million Pound Pledge to raise awareness about obesity in pets.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54 percent of America's pet population is overweight. Sweeney, who also stars on the daily soap opera "Days of Our Lives," became aware of pet obesity when she took her Boston Terrier, Winky, to the vet and was told her pooch could stand to lose a few pounds. After adjusting Winky's diet and making a few changes, the canine is back in shape.
With the Million Pound Pledge, Sweeney is urging pet owners to come together on petfit.com and collectively help their animals drop a combined one million pounds by March 30. One lucky winner will win a free trip to "The Biggest Loser" finale in May. Sweeney spoke to Reuters about the plan and pet obesity.
Q: When did you realize Winky was getting fat?
A: "She was a little thick, but I thought it was kind of cute. The vet explained she was a good two pounds overweight and when your dog is only 19 lbs, that's a lot. People don't realize what a significant difference a pound or two can make on a small animal."
Q: What's the most common mistake people make when it comes to feeding their pets?
A: "The number one mistake is giving pets table scraps. I made the mistake thinking I was showing my dog love by giving her food and treats. You see a tiny 4 oz. piece of cheese, but for a Boston Terrier like mine, that's like one and a half hamburgers. That's unhealthy."
Q: How is human weight loss different that pet weight loss?
A: "Our pets rely on us entirely for their nutrition. So if you're making your own judgments, that could lead to a mistake. At the same time, we have more control over our pet's diet than we do with our children or with ourselves, so your vet can tell you what is appropriate for your dog and you can assign them that. In my experience, it took Winky a couple of days to get used to eating less, but I saw the results in her health and energy right away."
Q: How can we prevent pet obesity in the first place?
A: "Like human weight loss, there's no end date where you say, 'I've taken care of that problem, I never have to worry about it again.' Humans should always exercise and watch what they eat. So with your pet, make sure they get enough exercise, make sure they're getting fed at the same time every day and getting the nutrition they need. And make sure they get a lot of love and attention you both need. That's why you have them!"
Q: Ever think of incorporating pet weight loss in to 'Biggest Loser?'
A: "I would love to. I think it'd be a great addition to the show if we somehow found a way to make it part of the challenge. It would be fun. They deserve their own show too."
Q: Speaking of "Loser," the new season premiered earlier this month and was down about 30 percent in viewers compared to the previous year. Ratings have been falling since trainer Jillian Michaels left the show. Is it a cause for concern?
A: "For our show, and in reality TV in general, you always kind of look to make a change, to shake things up. If it becomes too predictable, it's not interesting. You want to keep everybody on their toes a little bit. I feel like we are part of the solution of the obesity epidemic in this country and so I'm proud to be a part of it and I hope NBC feels the same way for a long time. Ratings have been down across the board for TV and certainly in daytime we've experienced that more than most."
Q: Luckily, your daytime show is still on the air while other soaps such as "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" have recently come to an end. Do their cancellations affect you?
A: "Absolutely, because it affects the whole (soap) genre, the way people feel about daytime television and how confident their feel in their show. That's hard on all of us. I've met so many fans of daytime television who've watched the shows with their moms and grandmas and feel like they've known the characters their whole lives. It's sad for them to have to say goodbye to their favorite soaps and characters. We don't want that to happen to the 'Days' fans."
(Editing By Bob Tourtellotte)