Why Parents Don’t Want to Hear About Food Addiction, Part 8


The Psychological Food Dependence-Addiction Paradigm is a very simple concept. People, yes, even kids, can become addicted to high-calorie, low-nutrient, hedonically engineered substances that masquerade as food. Food can be a drug of abuse, and it’s a lot easier for kids to get hold of than most other drugs of abuse.

The good news is, there is no need to argue all day and night about whether this is a “real” addiction. It has been demonstrated that food addiction can be treated if we assume it’s a “real” addiction and act accordingly. What more do we need to know? Let’s get busy and help some kids. It would make sense if parents would look for suitable 12-step programs.

Why isn’t more progress being made on this front? There are 99 reasons why parents inwardly groan at the idea of recognizing the validity of the food addiction paradigm. One reason is plain old ignorance, and another is the psychological fence of denial. Ignorance can be fixed by education, but denial is a little more complicated. When someone has gone to the trouble of building that denial blockade, emerging from it is not easy.

Can a parent address the possibility that there is such a thing as food addiction? Yes. Can a parent face the worse possibility that one particular child might be addicted to food? Yes, but first the parent needs to actually see that the child is obese. Apparently, this part is not as easy as it sounds.

“Are Your Kids Overweight? You’re Probably the Last to Know” is the title of a piece by Jason Best, in which he characterizes parents as a “big stumbling block on the road to a solution.” He writes,

A recent study published in the July-August issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics confirmed past reports that a significant number of parents of overweight children do not know that their kids are overweight. When asked whether or not their children were a healthy weight, more than 40 percent of parents of overweight kids said yes.

So, out of every 100 overweight or obese children, 40 of them have parents who are clueless. The evidence for this conclusion was gathered by Dr. Eliana Perris and others at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina.

Before the problem of childhood obesity can be addressed, parents need to see the problem. Perris’ group found, however, that parents are teachable, and can be guided into recognizing obesity in their children.

One of the big justifications for denial is based on the notion that talking about food addiction goes against common sense, that it’s as silly as talking about air addiction. People need air and they need food, and can’t get along without either. So the assumption here is that a person can only become addicted to non-essential substances.

In real life, a person can be addicted to just about anything, including something for which there is a legitimate need. For instance, our own brains produce opiods, and since nature provides this service, it must mean that narcotics are an essential substance to us. By that reasoning, there could be no such thing as heroin addiction. But there is.

Food is an awfully big category, and while it is essential to us, there are sub-categories of pseudo-foods and ersatz foods, the hedonic potions that are specially tailored to “hook” people. These are addictive substances posing as foods, but as we see from the list in Slide 49 of Dr. Pretlow’s presentation “Why Are Children Overweight?,” not one of these items is necessary to sustain human life.

This list of the biggest problem “foods” was compiled from information offered by children and teenagers, many of whom self-identify as food addicts. They know what they’re talking about. And many of them acknowledge that you have to treat an addiction like an addiction, and go through withdrawal, preferably by tackling one problem food at a time. It’s tough, but not impossible.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Are Your Kids Overweight? You’re Probably the Last to Know,” SlashFood, 07/13/11
Source: “Why Are Children Overweight?,” Weigh2Rock.com
Image by ravenscroft, used under its Creative Commons license.

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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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