An Interesting Development at Childhood Obesity, the Journal

Message board comments from "Fat Amy"

From 2005 until June of 2010, a publication existed under the name Obesity and Weight Management. Starting in August of that year, its focus narrowed and its name changed. Childhood Obesity announced its intention to be the premier journal concerned with childhood and adolescent obesity, as well as prevention and treatment methods, and the encouragement of changes in policy and the environment. Its target audience includes “physicians, nurses, dietitians, diabetes educators, nutritionists, psychologists, educators and school nurses, community organizers, and policymakers.”

The aspect that worried Dr. Pretlow and many others was that a magazine indirectly funded by one of the biggest makers of snack food is perhaps not an appropriate venue from which to expect unbiased information. One red flag was an announcement that the editorial content would address the genetic factors contributing to obesity. While there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, tunnel vision could be a problem.

Red herrings

Dr. Pretlow sees food addiction as the overwhelmingly prevalent cause of the obesity epidemic. By concentrating on genetics and energy balance, Big Food bamboozles the public with red herrings, with misleading clues that contain enough truth to distract the attention and send the detectives down the wrong trail. Yes, genetic origins can account for a small fraction of the total amount of obesity. Lack of exercise is certainly a big problem also. Everybody should get more of it.

But by concentrating on genetic causes, the food industry gets to blame pre-existing conditions that nobody could have done anything about. By persuading people that insufficient activity is the main thing making them fat, the food industry can place the largest share of responsibility squarely on the customer. If we the people don’t get out there and run enough miles to burn off the calories from their over-sweetened pseudo-foods, it’s our own darn fault!

An archived Childhood Obesity News post speculated:

It will be interesting to see how much attention the journal Childhood Obesity pays to the importance of viewing the childhood obesity epidemic through the psychological food dependence-addiction lens.

The question became more intriguing with the editorship of Dr. David Katz, co-founder and Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. This was not long after some of his Yale colleagues had published “Neural Correlates of Food Addiction,” which confirmed the addictive power of food. The following year, Dr. Katz referenced that paper in a Huffington Post article titled “Sugar Isn’t Evil: A Rebuttal,” where he wrote:

The media attention this study has generated would suggest that it delivers an epiphany. But I think the case is just as strong that it delivers a tautology: those who report receiving a stronger, more irresistible reward message from their brain in response to food have a stronger, more irresistible reward response in their brain in response to food.

Throughout this piece, these sentences appear:

With or without brain scans, we knew that food affects the brain.
The surprise, then, is not that foods are addictive….
Of course food is addictive.

But despite such strong sentiments, the bottom line is that Dr. Katz then shies away from identifying any particular edible substance, even sugar, as addictive.

The journal

Back when the journal launched, Dr. Pretlow remarked, “The Kellogg Company may not want articles on food addiction to appear in Childhood Obesity.” A search through all issues for the keyword “addiction” brings back 19 results, a pretty small number for a journal that has appeared six times a year since 2005. From then until June 2010, 11 articles are reported to include the word “addiction” in some context. After the re-christening and reorganization, eight articles have included the word, though in only one does it appear in the title.

The current (June 2014) issue contains an article titled, “A Systematic Review of Pediatric Obesity and Family Communication Through the Lens of Addiction Literature,” by Ashley Mogul, Megan B. Irby, and Joseph A. Skelton. Its “Conclusions” are described like this:

Though the addictive properties of food have not been fully delineated and obesity is not classified as a disease of addiction, the field of addiction offers many approaches that may prove useful in the treatment of obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “For Immediate Release,”, 05/26/10
Source: “Sugar Isn’t Evil: A Rebuttal,”, 04/18/11
Source: “Childhood Obesity”, June 2014
Image by “Fat Amy” (Anonymous)


  1. Katie McCaskey says:

    I think this sentence sums it up: “But by concentrating on genetic causes, the food industry gets to blame pre-existing conditions that nobody could have done anything about.”. Also revealing that there are so few mentions of addiction in a publication published so regularly!

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