Childhood Obesity’s Urgent Message

Chubby Baby

Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at part of the conversation between author Michael Prager and Dr. Christopher Ochner, a researcher in obesity and nutrition. They touched upon many points, but the big takeaway from Dr. Ochner’s studies has to do with prevention. Everything he says emphasizes the importance of stopping childhood obesity before it begins.

The problem is that a commercial or faddish popular weight-loss diet may be successful in the short term. But people who engage in them almost always gain the weight back. Success in shedding pounds does not always result in sustainability. Dr. Ochner defines sustainability as “the ability for most individuals to maintain a particular behavior.” Apparently, most individuals do not possess this ability to any great extent.

Dr. Ochner teaches in three different subject areas — pediatrics, psychiatry, and adolescent medicine. He and his colleagues are experts, and their perspective is results-oriented, related to realistic expectations of what health professionals “can get most people to do most of the time for the long run.” He writes:

Based on the data we have, only 2 percent to 5 percent of the individuals with obesity who are successful in losing a meaningful amount of weight (5 or more percent of initial body weight) are successful in keeping it off long-term using ANY kind of weight loss diet…. I despise that fact but I can’t deny that it is fact.

What he’s saying is maybe, at best, one weight-loser in 20 will be able to sustain the loss. But then elsewhere he gives even worse odds:

[T]he average adult individual who has been obese for a period of time has less than a 1 percent chance of maintaining a healthy body weight long-term…. Once an adult has developed and maintained obesity for an extended period of time (varies but probably about 12 months), the body adopts that new higher body weight and will from then on defend that body weight as if it needs every one of those pounds to survive.

A less than 1 percent chance of sustaining weight loss — what a disheartening statistic! The body always strives to return to its highest weight — what a grim prognostication! It is a biological drive, which originates in the part of the biology called the brain. Dr. Ochner believes that behavioral techniques, willpower, and support groups are no match for the natural tendency to backslide.

What all this points to is the urgent importance of not becoming overweight in the first place, because once obesity sinks its teeth into a person it can be very difficult to shake. There are stages on the road to obesity where it’s still possible to turn around or take another path. But it appears that a year could be the crucial period. After a year of obesity, a person can still return to normal weight, but with an exponential increase in difficulty.

A research team from Emory University established that the kindergarten year is important for children, because the typical overweight 5-year-old is four times as likely to become an obese eighth-grader, compared to the fate of a normal-weight 5-year-old. The lead author, Dr.Venkat Narayan, is not certain to what extent obesity has to do with the things that happen before a child is born. But he is certain of this much:

The biggest risk of developing new obesity from ages 5 to 14 is really driven by kids entering kindergarten overweight…. Those children who were born large or are overweight at age 5, something is happening very early in life which sets the pathway to obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ ‘Food could be considered an addictive substance.’ ”, 06/13/14
Source: “Doctor replies: We have to worry about the other 95 percent,”, 06/20/14
Source: “The doctor replies again: Once obese, it’s tough to escape,”, 08/01/14
Source: “Kindergartner’s weight strong predictor of later childhood obesity,”, 01/30/14
Image by Eduardo Merille

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