Recognition of Food Addiction Paradigm Urgently Needed

Grim Reaper

It’s a lens, a filter, a point of view, a set of new eyes, a new set of mind. It’s the psychological food-dependence-addiction lens. Whatever you like to call it, it is very much needed. So many children and teenagers are drowning in fat, and they’re doing it in parts of the world that never had this kind of problem before.

Before anyone takes offense at such a fat-negative attitude, let’s get this straight. Our judgment is not aimed at overweight people, many of whom don’t know what hit them. Our judgment is aimed at the medical miseries that almost inevitably follow. We don’t like for people to get sick and/or die. We are very prejudiced against illness and untimely death. Illness and untimely death are very often the consequences of obesity. We look at obesity as a stone-cold killer. We can’t be illness-and-death-positive. Which makes it impossible to be fat-positive. Sad but true.

The obesity epidemic needs to be curbed, quelled, and terminated. The people behind the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation think so too. So does Trust for America’s Health. Together, they issued a 124-page report titled, F as in Fat 2010: How the Obesity Crisis Threatens America’s Future (PDF).

The report has four authors: Jeffrey Levi, PhD; Serena Vinter, MHS; Rebecca St. Laurent, JD; and Laura M. Segal, MA. The researchers’ social awareness is high. The Introduction warns,

While all Americans face barriers to healthy choices, these obstacles are often higher for people with lower incomes and less education, and for racial and ethnic minorities, who often have more limited access to affordable foods and safe, accessible places to be active. Where you live, learn, work and play all have a major impact on the choices you are able to make.

Take a look at the chapter called “Childhood and Youth Obesity and Overweight Rates.” Putting this research together, the authors were working with numbers from the year 2007, concerning young Americans 10 to 17 years old. They give the obesity rates for this age group in the 10 best states and the 10 worst states. Worst of all is Mississippi, where almost 22% of the kids in this age group are officially obese. Yikes! That’s more than one in five.

Now, you might think, “How nice; all the fat kids have other fat kids to hang around with.” But you would be mistaken. Childhood obesity is one area of life where misery does not love company. Check this out:

Average waistlines have expanded by about an inch per decade since the 1960s.

And nobody is happy about it except the manufacturers of highly pleasurable (sometimes called hedonic) processed foods, who are getting rich. And who will continue to rake in the profits as more and more kids get hooked on their insidiously enticing concoctions. Yes, hooked. As in, addicted.

“McNugget rage caught on tape in Ohio” is just what the title says: a woman freaks out because McDonald’s is only serving breakfast, not chicken nuggets. She jumps out of her car and attacks the food-service worker, who hurries to close the drive-thru window. The crazed customer pounds on the window, and it looks like her own blood is splashed on the glass before she shatters it with something. If that isn’t addictive behavior, what is?

Adults need to start taking responsibility. No five-year-old can drive to the fast-food joint and place an order. Few five-year-olds can push a grocery cart around and negotiate the checkout alone. Adult obesity is contagious. Juvenile obesity doesn’t start with kids. It starts with grownups, and spreads to kids. The childhood obesity epidemic needs to be seen as a medical problem, such as, for instance, asthma.

Look at it from this angle. If air pollution caused a third of our kids to develop asthma, we’d certainly do something about it. In a home, if there’s an asthmatic child, the family might have to give up the idea of owning a cat or dog. The parents might have to give up smoking. In fact, when the effect of second-hand smoke on children was recognized, that realization helped to get laws passed.

Well… A third of our kids are medically overweight. What is the difference, really, between filling up a house with cigarette smoke and filling up a house with brightly packaged substances posing as food, virtually devoid of nutritional value, and laced with sugar, salt and fat? Air pollution, food pollution — if it’s making our kids sick — it needs to go. Maybe when the clueless parents understand how much their own obesity-courting ways impact the kids it will motivate them to clean up their act.

Dr. David Kessler, who wrote The End of Overeating, says,

We’re really going to have to change how we view food in this country.

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow writes,

We must radically change the way we look at highly pleasurable foods, specifically in regard to exposure of kids.

So let’s get some new eyes, or at the very least, start looking more carefully through the psychological food-dependence-addiction lens.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “F as in Fat 2010: How the Obesity Crisis Threatens America’s Future” (PDF), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Source: “McNugget rage caught on tape in Ohio,” ABC, 08/09/10
Image of Food Addiction Paradigm Lens courtesy of Dr. Pretlow. Used with permission.

0 Responses

  1. You got me thinking about my own kid. He’s not overweight at all, and he doesn’t have much processed food available to him at home. But, now 14, put a dollar in his pocket and he’s at the nearest convenience store buying sugar water. Giant bottles of sugar water.

    I wish we could limit the volume of crap kids buy at the store without parental supervision.

  2. Creative ways of combating childhood obesity can be achieved through technology. Children need to get this information through as many media as possible. You should check out this new app called KIDFIT ( It offers over 150 exercises that are designed specifically for kids and it’s being formally researched. Innovative, practical ideas like the KIDFIT app is what it’s going to take to eliminate the child obesity epidemic.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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