Listening to the Kids


For WAMU 88.5, a Washington, D.C., public radio station, journalist Kavitha Cardoza and producer Ginger Moored conducted interviews with obese children and their family members and doctors. This is typical subject matter for WAMU (licensed to American University), whose mission is to explore difficult problems and complicated issues. With such programs as Youth Voices, 735,000 listeners are engaged in an ongoing public dialogue.

An article by Anna is a companion piece to the five-part radio series, “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity.” There is also a whole series of short video clips in which Cardoza and Moored discuss the same subject. The stories add up to a reminder that the childhood obesity epidemic is very much a function of economic class and race.

Cardoza says,

A parent may have to take two buses to buy groceries, and then arrange to get a lift home by paying someone $20 for a ride… And they have to coordinate such plans and that’s even more work. On a bus, you can only take what you can carry… There’s a huge structural inequality these people have to contend with…

Options and answers that are available to relatively stable and affluent families just don’t work for families whose lives are more on the chaotic side. Cardoza gives this example:

One child was interested in martial arts, but he would need two buses and a train to get to a class. Then he picked football, but he couldn’t do that because of his weight. Playing outside isn’t possible because of gun violence. Even a walk around his house is dangerous. There was a shooting right outside this kid’s window. His dad died from being shot so that was on his mind.

Of course, in many ways, low-income, inner-city kids are not so different. Cardoza spoke with an obese boy in a dangerous neighborhood, who spent most of his time cooped up in an apartment playing video games. Despite his rather extreme situation, he has much in common with obese children in more fortunate circumstances.

He told her,

I think it’s a really good idea to be healthy, but I want to tell people you don’t have to bring it up with me every time.

In this debriefing, Cardoza emphasizes that, often, neither kids nor parents realize why good nutrition matters, or how to get started on healthier eating even when they are convinced it is a good idea. One of the frustrations is that there is no consensus in the community about who owns the childhood obesity problem. Is this a family issue, a school issue, or both, or neither?

In the old days, a single mother might have to work, but at least Grandma was around to do things like cook meals. Nowadays, Grandma is out working, too. A lot of kids have no idea who might be sleeping over at their house on any given night, or even where they themselves might be sleeping.

Cardoza says,

Every facet of these kids’ lives is complicated… one boy didn’t own a scale or a pedometer. He had never been on a treadmill. All of the advantages we might enjoy — we may be able to afford a gym or we may live in a neighborhood where it is safe to go for a walk. They don’t have any of that.

Listening to the kids is, of course, one of the founding principles of Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website. Protected by anonymity, they feel free to discuss such embarrassing and awkward problems as chafed thighs.

Cardoza interviewed a boy who needs to be excused from class frequently, because the weight he carries puts pressure on his bladder. To be allowed bathroom breaks, he has to bring in a fresh doctor’s note every few months, obtaining which is just basically punitive to a financially struggling family.

Cardoza also speaks of a seven-year-old girl who wants to die because of her obesity. Now, granted, kids exaggerate, but still, that’s pretty serious. A city council member supposedly grew alarmed because a child asked whether McNuggets could be grown in a school garden. The kid was probably kidding, but you never know.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kavitha Cardoza on “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity,’DCentric, 05/03/11
Image by Slawek Puklo, modified and used under its Creative Commons license
Image by johnsember (John), modified and 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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