Dr. Pretlow welcomes media requests. Contact him via Twitter.
Parents and other concerned adults should explore Dr. Pretlow’s report, “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People” (.pdf). Parents may relate to the struggles expressed in letters from this mother:
Students commonly ask these questions:
How do you recommend losing weight?
Avoid becoming habituated to foods that bring empty calories into the body. Discover the basic void that is being filled by food, and do the work necessary to satisfy your emotional needs and learn to cope with stress in other ways besides overeating.
What is the importance of children being fit?
Once a child has become obese, the difficulty in returning to a normal weight increases every year. Prevention is much easier than curing the damage once it has been done.
Do you believe that obesity is an important issue?
Obesity is one of the most important issues that humanity faces today.
Do you think that children are getting enough education on eating healthy and fitness?
That depends on the place. In the United States, for instance, most children feel that they have received more than enough education about these things. Lack of information is not the problem.
What is the number one cause of childhood obesity?
Teens and preteens use food to cope with life. The pleasure of food soothes their unpleasant feelings, and the actions of eating (biting, chewiness, crunchiness, swallowing) relieves their stress (similar to nail biting). However, they’re unable to stop this comfort and stress eating, even when painfully overweight or obese because of it and even though they are aware of the results. Initially, kids overeat because “the food is there”—it simply tastes good. But once their brains realize that pain, stress, and boredom are eased by the pleasure of the food, this comfort eating behavior will become mindless habit. As children continue to eat to ease emotional distress, changes insidiously take place in their brains. Once significant changes have taken place, the children are unable to cease the comfort eating—they are addicted. Actual addictive tolerance may develop, and it takes larger amounts and higher pleasure-level foods to obtain the same degree of comfort.
Why is childhood obesity such a problem?
If not addressed the problem becomes more serious, both on an individual and societal level, with each passing year.
How can families teach their children about the importance of eating healthy?
By setting a good example and not having junk food available in the home.
Is school cafeteria food one of the problems that cause obesity?
It’s always better to keep junk food out of schools, but that alone can’t solve the problem. It is only one component of the solution.
What are the cause and consequences of obesity?
On an individual level, obesity causes, or exists simultaneously with, a large number of health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart problems, sleep apnea, and many more. On a societal level, obesity accounts for billions of dollars in health costs which, one way or another, are borne by the society as a whole.
What should we do to tackle childhood obesity?
People need a thorough understanding of the consequences of obesity. We need to make overeating as socially unacceptable as smoking has become.
Does exercising play a part, and if so how?
Physical activity has a number of beneficial effects for the body and mind that result in an overall sensation of well-being. With this basic feeling of well-being, a person is more content and able to cope with the challenges of life, and less likely to turn to overeating as a temporary relief for stress.
Is it better to create your own weight loss program which one would follow or a program created by a professional?
There are programs and types of therapy that increase a person’s ability to cope with life in ways that are not self-destructive. Most important is learning to meet the underlying emotional need to deal with stress and find satisfaction in ways other than food consumption.
Image: Martin Pettit