Why Parents Don't Want to Hear About Food Addiction, Part 4

Fat kid with donuts

Ever since Freud, parents just can’t seem to catch a break. Every time we turn around, somebody finds another reason to blame us for yet another deficiency in our children. Like in the picture here, why is this rather chunky boy wearing a necklace of doughnuts? However, we can’t prevent or find out about a lot of the errors. Childhood Obesity News has talked earlier about how the same-sex parents are proven to affect their children’s weight.

Research had suggested that obese daughters take after their obese moms, and obese sons take after their obese dads. Now, they tell us that even fathers can mess up their daughters’ potential for a healthy body weight. Well, to be more accurate, father rats can mess up their daughter rats’ potential for a healthy body weight. How do they do it? In her capsule description of the Australian study for the Los Angeles Times, Karen Kaplan quotes the researchers. (The complete story was just published in the international weekly science journal Nature.) This is pretty major, because it seems to go against what some of us remember from the high-school genetics class:

To our knowledge, this is the first direct demonstration in any species that a paternal environmental exposure can induce intergenerational transmission of impaired glucose-insulin homeostatis in their female offspring.

In other words, a high-fat diet eaten by the father rats somehow interfered with the daughter rats’ production of insulin and tolerance for glucose. This is how Kaplan expresses it:

Genetic analysis revealed that 642 genes related to insulin and glucose metabolism were expressed differently in the daughters of overweight rats compared with the control rats. These so-called epigenetic changes affected the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin.

As we take the blame for our kids, meanwhile, we can also blame our own parents. Why not? There is plenty of opprobrium to go around. Why did our moms and dads insist on stuffing us with the fattening delicacies traditional in our ethnic group? Why did our parents ban chocolate from the house, creating a “forbidden fruit” that we couldn’t wait to grow up and eat a ton of?

Why did they let us drink soda pop? Even worse, why did they drink soda pop but not let us? As Dr. Pretlow has pointed out, children have an innate sense of fairness. If they see their parents doing something, then why shouldn’t they do the same? Kids are born with a natural aversion to the concept of “Do as I say, not as I do.” They just don’t buy into it. On the other hand, a very, very large percentage of successful parenting is found in the good example that parents set.

In the realm of parent-blaming, this commercial, also from Australia, has caused some controversy. In “Break the Habit,” a mom prepares a dose of smack in a syringe and ties off her little boy’s arm with a tourniquet. Then we see him eating a burger. Words appear on the screen: “You wouldn’t inject your children with junk. So why are you feeding it to them?” The implication is, childhood obesity is caused by parents just as surely as if they were pushers.

Abe Sauer describes it this way in his article on Brandchannel:

The ‘Break the Habit’ PSA from The Precinct studio in Sydney goes for shock value, straight up saying that giving kids fast food is no different than cooking up a bowl of heroin and mainlining it into their vein.

It’s hard to lay judgment on parents, even when they deserve it (smile.) Because sometimes they don’t deserve it. Even before a kid is school-age, parents don’t have control. People come over to the house and give the kids stuff, or “treat” them in public places or at family gatherings. You don’t really want them to eat whatever it is, but don’t want to cause unpleasantness either. It’s a new battle every day, and if a kid also has another thing going on, like bedwetting or setting fire to cats or something, the food issues can take a back seat real fast.

Then, there is the long-term responsibility for a truly serious consequence. The stigma of being labeled an addict is not something that parents want for their kids, and many see it as something to be avoided at any cost. If the reality of food addiction is accepted as equivalent to alcohol or drug addiction, the record of the treatment would stay with the child into adulthood. It’s very difficult to willingly lay a burden like that on a kid who is too young and powerless to object, or to even understand the future ramifications.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What a dad eats can affect his daughter’s health, researchers say,” Los Angeles Times, 10/20/10
Source: “Break the Habit ,” ThePrecinct
Source: “How Not to Fight Childhood Obesity: Equating Parents With Drug Dealers,” BrandChannel, 10/01/10
Image by kalleboo, used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

    1. […] There are many clear parallels between the classic substance addiction and the way that some people relate to food. In fact, the similarity is so marked that many health professionals now go ahead and call it food addiction. […]

      And perhaps that is a problem rooted in the training of “health professionals.”

  1. “If the reality of food addiction is accepted as equivalent to alcohol or drug addiction, the record of the treatment would stay with the child into adulthood. It’s very difficult to willingly lay a burden like that on a kid who is too young and powerless to object, or to even understand the future ramifications.”

    Some part of this reality seems to be lodged in the word choice of health and wellness and psych professionals. Why use the word addiciton? Question yourselves honestly about this. And why should treatment for a food issue “follow” a person throughout their lives as if they had committed some sort of crime? It is nobodies business, and we have laws that protect us from unwarranted and unauthorized disclosure of medical information. And furthermore, why should this “record of treatment” even be a record? In whose database? Why not target the real culprits – the advertising mafia that puts junky food in front of us everywhere we look and presents it in ways designed to get us to buy it? Why not make advertising of food ILLEGAL in all circumstances? Ask yourselves why food needs to be advertised.

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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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