Dr. Pretlow in Contemporary Pediatrics

I shouldn't have had the dessert

The September issue of Contemporary Pediatrics rounded up the opinions of several experts on the question of how to make a difference in reducing the alarming rate of childhood obesity. The author, Lisette Hilton, found that they agree on one thing: telling children and parents “eat less and exercise more” doesn’t work. Communication is a problem, starting with a doctor’s ability to convey the information to parents that their kids are overweight. An even bigger problem is overcoming basic, ingrained ideas and habits. An obese child may be the designated patient, but the whole family needs to change.

Dr. Pretlow, who was interviewed by Hilton for the piece, discovered this not long after creating Weigh2Rock.com. The original intent was to provide a safe place for kids and teens to discuss their issues around weight. With parents, peers and sometimes even their doctors seemingly aligned against them, he figured that young people need sympathetic ears, even if the ears belong to other kids in the same socially isolated niche. In the piece, Dr. Pretlow is quoted as saying, “The level of human misery that is expressed in what these kids write in chat rooms is just appalling.”

With around 100,000 kids dropping in to socialize at Weigh2Rock in an average month, the obvious conclusion was that more use could be made of the platform. The audience had selected itself and shown up. It was sitting there with open ears. What more could a helpful adult professional ask for? Hilton tells the story:

The next logical step, Pretlow thought, was to use the site to teach those on it conventional wisdom about healthy eating and exercise. The educational component, coupled with the site’s peer support, would surely help them lose weight and maintain healthier weights. Or so he thought.

Further study — including asking the kids, via interactive polls, what was going on with them — led to what Hollywood might call the big reveal. The kids had enough education. They were armed to the teeth with information about calories consumed in food and calories burned by exercise. They were not intellectual rebels, refusing to accept good advice, but psychological prisoners, aware of what needed to be done and unable to do it. A significant number even self-identified as addicts, and this was the theme of Dr. Pretlow’s 2009 book, Overweight: What Kids Say.

Today, Weigh2Rock incorporates an eCare system used by health care providers to keep tabs on their overweight and obese young patients. More importantly, the system lets young people know that someone cares and helps to promote feelings of safety, comfort and connection that are very different from the sense of isolation many of the kids have suffered.

The supportive environment created by Weigh2Rock is endorsed by, among others, Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, who runs the pediatric weight management program for, and is medical director of, the Children’s Medicine Center in Charleston, W.Va. After kids complete an intensive two-month program at the clinic, Dr. Jeffrey stays in active contact with them via Weigh2Rock. She says the interactive website appears to have a positive effect on their ongoing weight management:

The kids that do Weigh2Rock on a regular basis seem to do better. I don’t have absolute data — I can just tell you that they are more likely to come to their appointments. They are more likely to stay on track with their nutritional and activity goals.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overview: childhood overweight and obesity diagnosis and treatment,” ModernMedicine.com, 09/01/13
Image by Laura Lewis

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