Dr. Pretlow and the 19th European Congress on Obesity

Lyon, France

The world’s youth are inundated with social media, and barring a lethal solar flare, that’s not going to change. Accusations of frivolity and sheer time-wastingness are justified. But social media’s dark side is strongly counterbalanced by the positive aspects, namely, all the ways in which positive change can be supported. With the combination of apps and social media, people have both the tools and a way to tell people about the tools, how to use them, and why.

Dr. Pretlow has successfully paired the two. The Weigh2Rock website attracts as many as 100,000 visitors per month. Their age span includes just about everybody. Pre-teens and teens use the site, and some kids have been with it for years and it’s an important part of their lives, so the membership age has been extended into the 20s. And then there are parents, who find a plethora of information and ideas.

The anonymity of an online support group is important. Movie stars like Carrie Fisher are comfortable discussing their obesity-related issues in public, but ordinary teenagers, not so much. In addition to the therapeutic value of the support group, the responses have shown the need for real-world coping skills. Kids need tools to supplement whatever abilities they already have in this line. They need concrete instructions about how to manage their cravings and resist problem foods.

That’s where “W8 Loss 2 Go” iPhone app comes in. Using an addiction medicine approach, it provides ways to resist and heal from the problem of using food as a preferred substance of abuse. Dr Pretlow has just returned from Lyon, France, where he expressed these ideas and many more about his program and its early results, at the 19th European Congress on Obesity. (The Abstract is available as a PDF file.)

For MedScape, Daniel M. Keller, Ph.D., gives an account of the presentation that includes not only the more technical and pragmatic logistics, but a comprehensive overview of the whole concept and its possibilities:

Although Dr. Pretlow said the weight loss from social networking is not as much as from face-to-face weight loss programs, the Web site and app are free and more widely available. They also are useful for weight maintenance or relapses, and can be used indefinitely. He hopes to be able to provide iPhones or iPod Touches to schools for them to lend to overweight students.

Keller interviewed Chantal Simon, M.D., Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of Lyon Medical School, who acted as session moderator. Dr. Simon sees potential in the idea of adapting Dr. Pretlow’s tools for adults, and says:

The food industry is using a lot of these tools, [but] we don’t use these… The smart phone can give some messages during the day, even when you are not in front of your computer…. [It could be a] complementary strategy to increase self-esteem and behavior changes. We have to try this.

Keller pinpoints one troubling aspect that caught his attention:

Studies have found that overweight children eat more when they are out with other overweight kids; the group legitimizes members using food to escape their problems. When a person becomes obese, the risk of his or her friends becoming obese rises by more than 50%.

The influence that kids have on each other in this negative way is strong, so it’s very important to have a place for countervailing energies to be expressed. Keller conveys the essence of how the website and app combination is not only supportive, but truly therapeutic.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Online Social Network Helps Obese Kids Resist Problem Foods,” MedScape, 05/15/12
Image by emrank (Emran Kassim), used under its Creative Commons license.

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