In Food Addiction Study, Science and Anecdotal Evidence Mix

Poll #92

Not long ago, we mentioned that Dr. Pretlow’s paper, “Addiction To Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,” has been published online by Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. More recently, hard copies became available when the print edition of the journal went to press. And… It’s the lead article! Is that cool or what?

Dr. Pretlow’s summary of his main points goes like this:

Many respondents, ages eight to 21, exhibited DSM-IV substance dependence (addiction) criteria when describing their relationship with highly pleasurable foods. Further research is needed on possible addiction to highly pleasurable foods in youth. Incorporating substance dependence methods may improve the success rate in combating the childhood obesity epidemic.

The “respondents” mentioned here are the kids who express themselves via the Weigh2Rock website. Now, the funny thing is, the kids are much less squeamish than adults when it’s time to call a spade a spade. Poll #92 asked,”Does talking about food addiction offend you?” Of the kids who answered, 86% said “No.”

These kids have no reason to prevaricate. It’s not like they’re locked up and compelled to take the MMPI or something. Participation is not coerced in any way. The heartfelt personal truths that are revealed are voluntary communications by kids who want answers and want their voices heard. They wish they could govern themselves more effectively and they need to know that they are not alone in their travails.

Back in 1976, Shere Hite published a book about a certain topic, a book that was not quite like any other work on the subject. First, she made a list of things she was curious about and invited women to send her the written answers to any or all of the items on her questionnaire.

In terms of formal academic survey research, her method was deviant. The participants were self-selected from the pool of women who were likely to run across such a questionnaire in a men’s magazine, and, again, from the pool of women willing to write anonymously about such intimate matters for a stranger’s research project.

Well, the book was dynamite, and has set off a wave of similar unconventional research projects based on what laboratory scientists scoff at as “anecdotal evidence.” Which is just another way of saying, the real experiences of actual people.

Today, thanks to the Internet, writers of non-fiction books can find experts and magazine journalists can find ordinary people who will share their experiences about any controversial or mundane aspect of human life on Earth. Many books have been created out of interviews with 100 or even 20 people who know something about the subject.

Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kids Say, is made of the knowledge gleaned from paying attention to not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of children and young people. What an incredible amount of material there was to work with — like, 1,252 days of chat-room conversations. Dr. Pretlow’s speeches, presentations, and written works draw on the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of nearly 30,000 kids who have responded to the Weigh2Rock website.

Which is not to say that no science is involved. The Eating Disorders paper describes in much detail the screening and sifting that goes on, aided by advanced software, in the interest of making sure that individual visitors are correctly counted, while poll participants are limited to one vote apiece, and only obese kids are allowed to talk about what it’s like to be an obese kid. Plus, there are all sorts of other things that will delight the scientifically- and statistically-minded.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,” Eating Disorders, 06/21/11
Image of Poll #92 is used with permission.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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