Morbid Obesity in Children and Teens


The root word of “morbid” means “death” in Latin, and morbid obesity interferes with the basic functions of life, like breathing or walking. Morbid obesity is generally defined as being 100 lbs. over the ideal weight, or twice as much as ideal weight, or having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 35 or 40. This kind of extra poundage facilitates life-shortening disease processes and can even lead to fatality.

In Pediatric News (this link is to a PDF doc), Kate Johnson reports that while childhood obesity in general has increased, extreme obesity has been increasing at a much faster rate. This is not easily accounted for by either genetic or environmental factors. In regard to a study carried out by Kaiser Permanente, Johnson quotes Dr. Corinna Koebnick, who says:

Without major lifestyle changes, these kids face a 10 to 20 year shorter life span and will develop health problems in their twenties that we typically see in 40- to 60-year-olds.

Such a drastic outcome certainly seems to point backwards to an addiction at its source. One of the elements of an addiction is tolerance, a pattern of escalation where the amount of substance that used to be pleasurable is no longer enough. More of the substance, or a stronger substance, is needed to bring about the desired effect.

Kids say this holds true with their food addictions. Once they become overweight, their appetite increases, and, as they become fatter, they overeat even more consistently. Dr. Pretlow polled the young people who frequent the Weigh2Rock website, asking for the reason. Nearly half the kids who had responded said their stomachs could now hold more food.

Whether or not that is objectively true, it does appear that stomach stapling or gastic banding is the surest way to help a morbidly obese child get through the withdrawal phase of food addiction, but even then it doesn’t always work. The patient may start abusing alcohol instead of food, and, in any case, gastic bypass surgery is a serious matter, with lifelong side effects. Like with any surgical procedure, there is also a risk of death (there’s that word again).

Kids will eat themselves into the stage of morbid obesity, risking surgical intervention and even loss of life. If this isn’t addiction, then what is? Seems like we either have to accept that there is such a thing as food addiction, or change the definition of addiction.

And now here comes the “fat acceptance” movement, an entity which, in the words of Dr. Pretlow, “threatens to derail efforts to curb the childhood obesity epidemic.” Even some physicians go along with this, claiming that a fat kid can still be a healthy kid. Some claim that weight-loss programs do not help, but rather create eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, although studies have shown this fear to be without ground. Dr. Pretlow was told by the director of one adolescent obesity program at a university hospital that its nutritionists are “opposed to such a weight-loss emphasis in a program.” Huh? Here’s Dr. Pretlow’s reaction:

The obesity acceptance movement is reminiscent of an old movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where aliens surreptitiously took over the bodies of humans. ‘Snatched’ individuals tried to convince others to also be invaded, claiming that life was then euphoric. The fat acceptance movement occasionally invades the site, where they call themselves ‘FA’s’ (fat admirers) and ‘gainers.’ They attempt to proselytize kids who are struggling to lose weight.

While this position is overall counterproductive, there is a grain of truth in it. Many psychological and spiritual teachers tell us that by accepting a person as she is or he is, we free that person to change. In fact, only then can change come about. Heart first, body second — always. Our kids need to know that we love them, as a bedrock proposition, before they can tackle the problem of sustainable weight loss.

There is a fine line between acceptance and enabling, as well as a not-so-fine line between acceptance and outright encouragement. To glorify obesity is to emulate the notorious “pusher man,” the sinister character who cheerleads kids into doing things that are not in their best interest.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study: Shift Toward Extreme Obesity in Kids” (PDF), PediatricNews, 05/10
Source: “Poll #90,”
Image courtesy of Dr. Pretlow via, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

6 Responses

  1. A healthy child is not an overweight or morbidly obese child. I understand the idea that you can be overweight and still be in good health but what are we really teaching our children. I don’t think that’s a good idea because as they get older they will think they are healthy at a much bigger size and so forth. First, we must explain to our children what food is intended for as it is not to overindulge in but nearly to satisfy hunger. Next we must help our children become more active so they don’t become accustomed to the sedentary lifestyle. I believe if we educate ourselves we are better capable of educating our children to make better choices in their lives and then we will see a decline in obesity.

  2. My 14-year-old daughter is morbidly obese (360lbs) (but I am a single father, my lower body is paralysed, I to am no obese (97lbs).) she is so fat that she went through puberty when she was 7, it is a problem but my daughter likes it, I’ve tried to talk to her about it, she won’t listen, I won’t fight her she gained 40lbs last week, she now weighs 400lbs, her mum died when she was 3, she weighed 800lbs

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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