Chips = The Biggest Demon

Pickle-Flavored Chips

We told you. Didn’t we tell you? Now, here is Alicia Chang saying the same thing, a propos of a Harvard University study which appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine. Its title is “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men,” and Chang, who frequently writes about science, calls it “comprehensive.”

The changes in the subjects’ lifestyles and weight, over 20 years, were charted in four-year increments. This recent Harvard meta-study covered 120,877 health professionals who did not start out obese.

One variety of hyperpalatable pseudo-food is particularly indicted:

Blame the potato chip. It’s the biggest demon behind that pound-a-year weight creep that plagues many of us, a major diet study found. Bigger than soda, candy and ice cream… Potato chips were the biggest dietary offender. Each daily serving containing 1 ounce (about 15 chips and 160 calories) led to a 1.69-pound uptick over four years… For starchy potatoes other than chips, the gain was 1.28 pounds. Within the spud group, french fries were worse for the waist than boiled, baked or mashed potatoes. That’s because a serving of large fries contains between 500 to 600 calories compared with a serving of a large baked potato at 280 calories.

The journalist quotes one of the study leaders, Dr. Frank Hu:

There is no magic bullet for weight control… Diet and exercise are important for preventing weight gain, but diet clearly plays a bigger role.

We recently looked at a contrasting view, held by the STOP Obesity Alliance, which places nearly all the emphasis on exercise and hardly even mentions diet. Evelyn Theiss recently asked, in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, how much impact any amount of exercise can realistically be expected to have:

Sending kids to play outside isn’t going stop the epidemic of childhood obesity — not when a child can, in minutes, ingest hundreds, if not thousands, of calories in fast food, pop, candy and chips.

Just ask a bunch of children and teenagers which substances they have the biggest problem with. That’s what Dr. Pretlow did, via a Weigh2Rock poll. He talks about it in Slide 49 of the presentation “Why Are Children Overweight?” This was not a multiple-choice quiz, but a fill-in-the-blank question, so some of the categories overlap.

Also, many junk food items are not quite definable as to their genus and species. There is such a thing as a chocolate ice-cream cake. But, generally, the major addictive foods are chocolate and other candy; ice cream; chips; cookies and cakes; fast food; pizza. What all these highly addictive foods have in common is that none of them is essential to human life.

Dr. Pretlow says in his presentation “Food Addiction in Children” (PDF),

Abstaining from any food, even such problem foods, may seem unreasonable. However, if kids were allergic to those foods, they would need to avoid them forever. Is obesity different? Furthermore, if kids were contracting an infectious disease from such foods, would we not restrict access to those foods by kids?

In the same presentation, he mentions the Weigh2Rock poll with a “fairly severe definition of addiction,” as feeling driven to a behavior even though you know it will damage your health and/or social life. Even going by such a strict and scary standard, 40% of the kids who have responded said they were addicted to certain foods. Chips are mentioned again in the newly published “Addiction To Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study.”

As Dr. Pretlow notes in Overweight: What Kids Say, some kids are able to practice restraint by eating only a handful of chips rather than an entire bag, but sadly they are more the exception than the rule. The slogan invented by one manufacturer, “Bet you can’t eat just one,” is pretty much true of them all.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Potato chips are piling on the pounds, study finds,” AP via, 06/23/11
Source: “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men,” The New England Journal of Medicine, 06/23/11
Source: “No one solution to stopping childhood obesity,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 04/21/11
Source: “Food Addiction in Children” (PDF),, 2010
Image (modified) by edenpictures (Eden, Janine and Jim), used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. I will say, chips are my guilty pleasure. I loved them as a kid! But now that children are facing obesity, its really something that shouldn’t be eaten anymore. It’s a sad thing when children are suppose to have fast metabolisms, faster than adults, and now they are the ones who are also facing obesity. But thanks for the post! I enjoyed it and the facts! -Leandra

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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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