Shaq Helps Kids Tackle Weight Challenges

Everyone knows Shaquille O'Neal is a superstar on the basketball court. But his new project, geared towards improving kids' health, proves his success off the courts as well.

Shaq has teamed up with ABC for the new reality show "Shaq's Big Challenge," which follows six obese children as they try to get healthier, and possibly save their own lives.

The six-episode show, debuting tonight at 10 p.m. EDT, takes viewers inside the world of overweight middle-school boys and girls, offering a snapshot of the growing U.S. epidemic of childhood obesity.

"This will be the first generation where the children will die before their parents," O'Neal said. "That's because of childhood obesity. This is something I really wanted to get involved in. I didn't know how bad it was until I got inside."

O'Neal discovered children on a road to destruction with nowhere to turn for help.

The kids taking part in the challenge range in age from 11 to 14, and almost all of them weigh more than 200 pounds.

Eleven-year-old James is a good-natured kid who does not believe he is overweight at 182 pounds.

Ariel, 14, admits she is an emotional eater. The teen weighs 211 pounds and wants to be a singer.

Thirteen-year-old Kevin said he is teased in school. He dreams of playing professional basketball, and loves food. He weighs 230 pounds.

Walter, 14, said he is addicted to video games and pizza burritos. This sensitive teenager weighs 284 pounds.

Students treat 14-year-old Kit, who weighs 263 pounds, like an outsider at school.

And finally, 11-year-old Chris wants to play for the New York Yankees someday, but realizes his weight of 206 pounds could get in the way of his goals. His classmates tease him.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 30 years ago 4 percent of children in the United States were overweight. Today that number has climbed to 30 percent, and the statistic continues to rise.

"This is at an epic proportion," said Dr. William Munios, board certified in pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology at Miami Children's Hospital. "A 10-years-old child who could reach 70 or 80 years old, if he continues to be obese that could shorten his life by 10 to 15 years."

"Obviously parents are responsible for kids gaining weight and becoming obese in my opinion," he said.

Chris' parents, Vicky and Manny, seem to fit the bill. They said they find it hard to say no to their child, especially when it comes to food.

"Sunday dinners were big dinners. We'd have rice and beans, potatoes, always Cuban bread on the table," Vicky said. "We tried a couple of times to start a diet. He would say, 'Mommy I'm really hungry. I can't stand how hungry I am,' and we'd go back to the same thing."

Chris' family signed up with O'Neal and his dream team of experts in the hope that he would get healthy.

O'Neal wants to change the way kids approach physical fitness, and that starts with mandatory physical education in public schools across the country.

"Kids are the future," he said. "If they're obese and they die before their parents, we won't have a future."