Does Anything Work to Fight Childhood Obesity?


What can help end the childhood obesity epidemic? That question includes a lot of other sub-questions. Two of them are “What can prevent kids from growing overweight in the first place?” and “What can help kids who are already overweight?” So when we ask whether a certain approach can work, or has been shown to work, there might be two different answers. It depends on whether we’re talking about the prevention end of the spectrum, or the cure end.

Solution A might help a normal-weight kid to stay on track, but it doesn’t do a thing for a kid who is already hooked on unhealthful pseudo-foods that were purposely designed to induce dependency. Solution B, on the other hand, might be quite effective for an obese teen, and totally inappropriate for a little kid who hasn’t yet been caught up in any of the possible vicious cycles of childhood obesity.

It’s good that groups and municipalities are trying a lot of different solutions. Is somebody keeping track of what actually shows signs of working? All solutions need money, whether it comes from the government or a foundation grant. Resources are limited, so it is kind of important know what gets results.

Last year, representatives from more than 30 organizations gathered under the auspices of the Ludwig Community and Economic Development Clinic (CED) and of NPLAN. It was a rather cross-disciplinary workshop, whose purpose was to rough out the priorities for a planned food policy conference at Yale Law School. Specifically, they considered the upcoming Farm Bill 2012. NPLAN is the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, a nonprofit organization that provided legal information (not advice or representation) on public health issues. CED is involved with food policy. For instance,

CED drafted a policy paper for the non-profit looking at the regulatory environment that makes it difficult for schools to serve healthy lunches.

A complete list of the participants is included in the document “Farm Bill 2012: Building Coalitions for Change,” which is available online as a PDF file. Now, to credit the authors:

Clinic students Allison Tait and Lang Liu produced the initial draft of this document. They were joined by fellow students Jeremy Golubcow-Teglasi, Casey Hinkle, Dominick Grant and Shannon Marimon in planning and running the workshop.

The attendees set out to create a conversation about the possibilities of reshaping farm bill policies for the next farm bill reauthorization. They pondered larger questions, such as how much energy should be devoted, at this point, to “visioning” an entire cohesive meta-plan, as opposed to concentrating on things that could actually effect concrete change in the 2012 legislation. Overall, they decided that it’s important to build local systems, and to build coalitions.

Also, the world and the hype machine being what they are, it’s important to “frame” an issue effectively, in other words, to put the correct spin on it. If you want people to buy your ideas, you need a good sales pitch. Because heaven knows, the food-industrial complex surely devotes a lot of energy to “framing,” otherwise known as advertising and marketing, and its sales pitch has been working much too well. Here’s what the group came up with:

A first suggestion was to focus on economic development and job creation. The economic frame was seen as having particular resonance with the general public as well as with policymakers… The second was promoting the concept of healthy communities… Third, there was interest in trying to introduce civil rights and food justice as a potential framing device, most especially as it brings the anti-hunger advocates into the fold and represents their goals… A fourth key frame was environmental sustainability, including sustainable agricultural production.

If their suggestions for the upcoming legislation were to be considered, they would need to present them as good for the economy, good for families, good for the environment, or as upholding and promoting civil rights — preferably all four. It was also pointed out that everything affects everything else. For example, a need was seen to look not just at farm subsidies, but at the “underlying overproduction of certain crops.” And then you get to the planetary level. The participants were careful to remember that every action and policy initiated by the United States has some kind of global impact, and needs to be looked at in that international context. This is one area where unintended consequences can really sneak up.

The report not only recommends action, but strongly recommends further research to determine the best actions for the future. The participants agreed that federal agriculture policy, by its overwhelming support of large-scale food production, has contributed greatly to all the unhealthy calories on the market, and has actually curtailed the production of healthful foods. What do the participants look forward to?

Continuing this discussion will hopefully lead us to a robust vision of what food policy can and should look like–one that all members of a broad coalition can support–as well as a fleshed-out framework for implementation

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New Report Part of CED Clinic Efforts to Reform the Food System,” Yale Law School, 12/03/10
Source: “Farm Bill 2012: Building Coalitions for Change (PDF),”
Image by UTC_library , used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Responses

  1. Dear Ms. Hartman and Dr. Pretlow,

    Since May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. I thought you might be interested in these materials on encouraging physical activity.

    As you may know, WeCan! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition), a science-based national education program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), helps children ages 8-13 stay at a healthy weight. WeCan! offers several materials to help caregivers and families encourage children to become more active.

    Tips for Getting Active

    This tip sheet includes bulleted items you can easily cut, paste, and share on your blog. Ideas include enjoyable ways to encourage physical activity while spending time with children:

    • Walk your children to school,
    • Go for a half-hour walk instead of watching TV,
    • Play with your kids at least 30 minutes per day,
    • Dance to music with your kids, and many more.

    Tips to Reduce Screen Time

    Ideas from this tip sheet include:

    • Set Screen Time Limits: Create a house rule that limits screen time to two hours every day…
    • Talk to Your Family: Explain to your kids that it’s important to sit less and move more…

    Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel welcome to contact me.



  2. Dear Ms. Hartman,

    That is the million dollar question! Having been a certified personal trainer for 33 years now, I’ve enjoyed taking people’s physiques from one extreme to the other, both adults and children. In order to put a serious “dent” into childhood obesity, we must first understand that there are three components to getting in shape…training, nutrition and cardio. If one of those pieces of the puzzle are missing, it will be extremely difficult for an individual to reach his or her goal(s).

    In my opinion, I believe that we’ve made “finding a cure for obesity” a lot more difficult than it has to be and the costs for prevention is not as much as researchers claim. I’ve done a great deal of research myself over the past 5 years and it took me close to two years to put together a very realistic fitness program and concept for both the parent and the child, which would involve schools. I’ve had great success with the school district here in Columbia, SC. Thank you for your time all the best to you in health & fitness.

    Ron Emmons

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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.

Food & Health Resources