Younger Kids and Motivation

Crying Girl

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News discussed how Dr. Pretlow was interviewed for a school assignment by 13-year-old Heidi Zahnleuter. In the finished paper, she writes of the importance of motivation:

The key factor to losing weight is to be motivated. Many children and teens cannot motivate themselves for long enough to lose weight. In order to slim down, there needs to be motivation present in the child or teen.

One of Heidi’s other sources for her assignment was an article published by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that includes the line, “Lasting weight loss can only occur when there is self-motivation.” This emphasizes that the word “self” is all-important. True motivation can only come from within.

For instance, in speaking of obese teens who signed up for a weight-loss study yet participated with less than 100% enthusiasm, Dr. Pretlow concluded that some participants may have signed up just to get their parents off their backs. They wanted plausible accountability; to be able to say “Well, I tried…” even though it was evident that they didn’t try very hard.

This is the problem with second-hand motivation, or motivation once removed, or borrowed motivation — it could be called many things, but the problem is, it can seem like nagging, bullying, blaming, shaming, etc. It might even be any of those things.

When the STOP Obesity Alliance published its policy recommendations, #3 was this:

Address and Reduce Stigma as a Barrier to Improving Health Outcomes
There is no evidence that stigmatizing overweight and obese individuals motivates them to lose weight…. Personal responsibility for behavior change is critical to successful sustained weight loss. But, until recently, the discussion of personal responsibility has been the beginning and the end of the obesity debate.

What some call “recognizing the role of personal responsibility,” others call “blaming,” and the minute they catch a whiff of it, they’re outta here. There is nothing wrong with personal responsibility per se, as many people do eventually come to realize. But when the concept of personal responsibility is packaged as blame or shame, all usefulness goes out the window. Even when a health care professional is equipped with credentials, experience and the most sincere intentions to help, it is still not possible to graft motivation onto another person.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity In Children And Teens,”, March 2011
Source: “Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance,” Policy Recommendations
Image by upyernoz


  1. She isn’t fat… She is growing..

    • Allyson Wendt says:

      Editor’s note: The image was chosen merely to illustrate the story, which does not refer directly in any way to the girl pictured. However, some parents have been known to underestimate a child’s weight or deny obesity even when it is present. Our post on the Goldilocks Syndrome explains just that. Goldilocks Syndrome

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