Parents as Enablers and Saboteurs, Part 1

Happy Fat
Parents want to know what to do about childhood obesity. The answers are difficult ones because most of them involve a change in philosophical outlook and/or everyday behavior — a change made by parents, that is. When we parents set out to fix our kids, we often run up against the uncomfortable truth that we are the ones who need fixing. For starters, it’s up to us as parents to remold ourselves into the kind of people who give our children positive attention.

It’s well known that a child who can’t get a parent’s attention in some positive way will resort to all kinds of undesirable behavior, to get his or her share of attention. A course in effective parenting can go a long way toward solving a lot of family problems. The most important single principle to keep in mind is probably this: with kids, the gold standard currency of reward is your attention. In any given situation, if the first resort is to ask yourself how to grant this child some positive attention right now, the outcome can be positive.

Whether or not we need more laws regulating certain varieties of alleged food, is open for debate. What is not in doubt is that parents need to do more regulating in the home. We talked about advertisements that encourage parents to buy their children’s cooperation by bribing them with rewards of junk food treats, and about using junk food to tempt a “picky eater” who might otherwise, it is feared, dwindle away.

A mistake people make is to let an attitude develop where junk food isn’t regarded as any kind of treat, but simply as food. Actually, it only bears a faint resemblance to food, and some of the ingredients are psychoactive. The stuff is powerful like medicine, only in a bad way. It does things to bodies and minds.

One of the most dismaying sights in the world is a young family packing for a road trip with three children, small enough to require safety seats, plus a couple more kids a bit older. And for provisions, they have bags and bags full of those edible excretions, those pseudo-foods in brightly colored, ultra-shiny packages. And dozens of bottles of drinks in florescent hues, like the products of a mad scientist’s laboratory in a horror film. Don’t they get it? A bunch of kids, buzzed on sugar, confined in a moving auto for hours, and not a scrap of genuine nutrition in sight? It’s a recipe for hell on wheels.

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow relates many of the responses made by the thousands of children and teens who have shared their stories and feelings with the Weigh2Rock website. Kids are not easily fooled, and, as parents, it’s our responsibility to recognize our more ignoble reasons for being enablers, one of which is to keep on practicing denial about our own addictions.

And sometimes we don’t even bother to do that much. Here is a story from a 225-pound 13-year-old girl who talks about her mother:

I asked her ‘can you please stop buying junk food, I really think it would make us healthier and we might lose a little weight’ you know what she said?? ‘No, I need it’ I said she sounded like a drug addict and she agreed!!!! (she is majorly obese[as am I])I told her ‘please stop buying the junk food, I have no will power and you always offer it too me. We aren’t healthy and I think this would be a good idea’ she goes ‘if you want to lose weight we should find a plan and stick to it, I’ll find one, until then I’ll eat my chocolate bars’ that was two months ago!!! What can I do to stop myself from eating the candy and junkfood she CONSTANTLY buys??

A teenager only 5’3″ and weighing over 200 pounds wrote this:

I have a hard time staying away from fast food and resturants because my mom gets us food from out to eat all the time. I am homeschooled, so it makes it easier for her to go out and get something rather than just fixing something from around the house. And we always go out to eat on friday nights and Sunday lunch. I probably get to go out to eat 4-5 times a week. And my mom NEVER wants to go anywhere like subway, or any place where I can get fresh/healthy food. So how do I tell my parents not to go out so much, and all that stuff??? I know that’s one of the reasons I gained 20 pounds last year.

The really sad part is that this family has the luxury of a parent staying at home to do homeschooling. The excuse of “too busy working to prepare healthful meals” is not viable. This fortunate family is missing a precious opportunity to really get all over that junk food issue and turn things around. The growing and preparation of food can be a major educational tool that can be a bridge to every other subject: chemistry, history, archaeology, civics, art, etc.

As chef Jamie Oliver says,

Every child should be taught to cook in school, not just talk about nutrition all day. Good food can be made in 15 minutes. This could be the first generation where the kids teach the parents.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,”
Source: “Congratulations Jamie Oliver – 2010 TED Prize Winner,”, 2010
Image by myeralan (Alan Myers), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

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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