Childhood Obesity Awareness Month Questions

Har har har

Unlike some other social phenomena that are either celebrated or deprecated, childhood obesity has been allotted not a day or a week, but an entire month. We are still in the second annual Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (COAM). How is it being observed? How do Americans feel about it? Does it accomplish anything?

Two organizations were united in their dislike of COAM from its inception. They are the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Their press release said,

While this move has been encouraged by many, particularly in the medical profession, it has also been greeted by some as a cause for deep concern.

They contend that it is possible to support both size diversity and health, and they advocate a better approach to the childhood obesity epidemic, more positive and less divisive. It’s not simply that they don’t like being singled out or even stigmatized. These groups, and some others, oppose the COAM concept on pragmatic grounds, claiming that very few anti-obesity programs for children actually show results.

Besides, it is preferable to concentrate on things that encourage good health in all kids, regardless of their starting point. Anti-obesity programs that don’t work just add another layer of unhappiness to the lives of kids who are already miserable. These groups recommend focusing more on the set of guidelines for childhood obesity programs published by the Academy for Eating Disorders.

There are 20 guidelines altogether, backed up by a plethora of references. The guidelines make a number of excellent points that can’t be argued against, and here is the gist: Holistic perspective; focus on health rather than weight; respect for diversity; evidence-based treatment.

The standards of obesity measurement and definition need adjustment. Laying a “personal responsibility” trip on young children is pretty much counterproductive. Educating parents is effective. Adults are accountable for making the environment more healthful. Schools should play a large role in the areas of nutrition and physical activity, and in their policies around teasing, bullying, and stigmatization. Basically, we should aim not to fight obesity but to promote health.

This item is particularly all-encompassing:

The ideal intervention is an integrated approach that addresses risk factors for the spectrum of weight-related problems, including screening for unhealthy weight control behaviors; and promotes protective behaviors, such as decreasing dieting, increasing balanced nutrition, encouraging mindful eating, increasing activity, promoting positive body image and decreasing weight-related teasing and harassment.

These recommendations are more useful for obesity prevention than for helping a desperately unhappy fat kid. (Yes, it’s okay to say “fat kid.” ASDAH and BEDA say it.) Nowhere in the 20 guidelines is there any mention of dependency or food addiction, unless it is somehow vaguely implied in the phrase “unhealthy weight control behaviors.” Detoxification is not mentioned, nor 12-step programs.

Is there a big, glaringly obvious fact about childhood obesity that is not generally included in the discourse? We already know the answer to that one. It is found in Dr. Pretlow’s article on the enormous missing link, the lead story in a recent issue of the journal Eating Disorders, and the title gives it away — “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ASDAH & BEDA Discourage Embracing Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” ASDA press release, 08/31/10
Source: “AED Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs,” AED
Image by quinn.anya (Quinn Dombrowski), 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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