Publication in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention

Eating Disorders

A while back, we mentioned that Dr. Pretlow’s latest paper was due to be published by Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. The future has become the present, and the document is now online. (The print version of Volume 19 #4, July/Aug/Sept. 2011 will be available in about a month.) Dr. Pretlow is a pediatrician based in Seattle, Washington, and the full credit for the article reads, “Robert A. Pretlow, MD, MSEE, FAAP”.

The title of the work is “Addiction To Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study.” The 14-page PDF file is also there for downloading. Dr. Pretlow has been listening carefully to obese youth for more than 10 years. It didn’t take long for him to catch on that these kids weren’t kidding. When they use the word “addiction,” they’re expressing a heartfelt cry of anguish. They are hooked and don’t know how to quit.

One result was the publication of Overweight: What Kids Say, which contains astonishing and sometimes brutally frank commentary from actual kids, interspersed with scientific backup, observations on societal trends, helpful hints for both parents and children, and much more.

The advance announcement about the paper said,

An electrical engineer as well as a pediatrician, Dr. Pretlow originally got involved in childhood obesity issues while designing online weight loss programs. As part of that work, he created an online forum monitored by health care professionals where kids could speak honestly and anonymously about their efforts to lose weight.

Although his research encompasses information gathered from 29,000 overweight children and teens, Dr. Pretlow has often been faced with a “shoot the messenger” reaction from fellow medical professionals. For some strange reason, his message has been more readily accepted overseas, and he has spoken at many conferences in other parts of the world. He looks forward to the opportunities to carry the same message to audiences in the United States.

Why do these ideas meet with opposition? For many reasons, including the conflicts of interest that seem to pop up everywhere, the notion of looking at childhood obesity through what he calls the “psychological food dependence-addiction lens” has been met with widespread denial. Another obstacle is the perfectly understandable reluctance of parents to learn how much more we could and should be doing to stem the tide of childhood obesity. It was very heartening when in April, a Yale University study confirmed that junk food can indeed be an addictive substance.

One of the themes of the Eating Disorders paper is that efforts to curb the obesity epidemic are soaking up a lot of scarce resources without having much effect. The reason for this is that a certain percentage of obesity, whether in children or adults, stems from plain, old-fashioned substance dependency. As in, being hooked. Like cigarette smokers and problem drinkers.

Society tolerates plenty of legal psychoactive drugs… caffeine, for instance. And things that are found in pseudo-food. A lot of those things have no nutritional value, and a lot of them bring nothing to the table but empty calories. Then, with the interaction between those things and the bodies of certain vulnerable individuals, the real trouble starts.

The problem is, when it comes to addiction-proneness, just about everybody seems to be predisposed. Like, most of the human race. This is one way in which we are all truly united. Whatever combination of forces are at work — genetic, environmental, cultural, psychological, etc. — the bottom line is, there is an awful lot of food addiction going around.

With all due respect to First Lady Michelle Obama, the sad truth is that even such noble and well-intentioned efforts as the “Let’s Move!” program are doomed to failure. America’s children have literally become addicted to highly-pleasurable comfort foods. If this is not recognized, the childhood obesity epidemic will not be terminated.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Yale Study Vindicates Childhood Obesity Pioneer’s Findings,”, 04/28/11
Source: “Addiction To Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of The Childhood Obesity Epidemic” (PDF), Taylor & Francis Online, 06/11
Image of the Eating Disorders cover is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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