Cravings and Temptations

Vending Machine

What’s the difference between a craving and a temptation?

A craving is self-generated. It’s intrinsic. It comes from within. You’re sitting around, minding your own business, and suddenly realize you want something sweet or crunchy, or salty. So you go forth in search of it, in the kitchen or at the 24-hour Chocolate-Covered Bacon Shack down the block. Coming up: more about cravings, but in general, the wanting comes first, and then pursuit of the object.

Temptation is what happens when the thing shows up in front of you. It’s extrinsic. Temptation is stumbled across, or somebody sets it front of you. Temptation wears many faces. It could be a sweet grandma saying, “Here, let me give you a few more dumplings.” Temptation is assertive. It comes on to you. It’s something that shows up and creates a craving for itself — a craving you didn’t have until you saw or smelled the food item in question.

So, we’re up against cravings and temptations at every turn. And then, there’s… advertising. Advertising is artificially induced temptation. It can make you want something, without the actual thing even being there, which is why it’s so very insidious. Advertising only has to show a picture of the thing, or tell you that you want it, and voila! — instant craving.

Speaking of school, Childhood Obesity News has discussed the difficulties of regulating what children eat there, noting that “Temptation is everywhere.” A lot of people think it’s necessary to exercise control in that sphere. They believe the administration has a responsibility to limit the amount of temptation presented to school kids, in the way of cafeteria menu offerings and vending machines. This philosophy makes sense, and implementing it certainly can’t hurt.

There is another point of view about schools. Some hold that far too much blame for the childhood obesity epidemic has been assigned to schools. Accusations are laid at the door of public educational institutions which don’t belong there because, once again, children’s behavior is the result of parental influence.

Here is the stark British truth as revealed by The Telegraph‘s medical editor, Rebecca Smith:

If the nutritional standards set for school meals were applied to packed lunches only one per cent would comply… Sandwiches, sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks were the most common items found in lunch boxes… The packed lunches were low in fibre and high in salt and sugar.

This sobering fact was ascertained by researchers from the University of Leeds, who examined 1,300 lunches packed by their parents (or maybe even by themselves) for 8- and 9-year-old children.

It’s especially disappointing because Britain is one of the countries where something revolutionary was supposed to happen, namely the Food Revolution spearheaded by chef Jamie Oliver. Apparently, that movement, which seems to be promising, hasn’t quite taken hold on the other side of the ocean or here in the United States, either. The TV show was canceled after two seasons for lack of commercial support. No surprise there, not when such a large proportion of television advertisers are manufacturers of junk food.

Lisa Johnson reported on how it worked out in America. Researchers from West Virginia University discovered that, of the youth affected by the Food Revolution, 77% of them were “very unhappy” with the new foods on their lunch trays. Johnson says:

Three months after the show wrapped, the film crew returned for an update on the school lunch program and found that there were problems. Lunch participation dropped from 75 percent before the Food Revolution food to 66 percent after the new diet was implemented. The parents that were allowing their kids to brown bag it were essentially feeding them junk.

For this episode, Oliver personally examined 40 homemade lunches and found that only one contained fruit. He is not discouraged, and realizes that all important changes need time to take hold. Meanwhile, he continues to urge parents to do their part in reducing the amount of temptation that children must deal with. One recommendation is, obviously, to keep an eye on what goes into those lunchboxes and brown bags. Since parents presumably do the grocery shopping to stock the cupboards and refrigerator, this should not be difficult… in theory, anyway.

Oliver continues to urge parents to get involved and work with their children’s schools, starting with the kitchen staff. He has found that if the cooks are not recruited into the cause first, no amount of rules imposed from above will have the desired effect.

Schools and parents definitely need to work together, because both play a part in any meaningful change. Here’s a quotation, taken from the pages of Overweight: What Kids Say, from one of the Weigh2Rock kids. When she wrote this, Aliza was 15 years old, had lost about 30 pounds, and aspired to lose about 20 more:

Schools are supposed to make it good for you yet sometimes they make it so hard! For almost the whole day today my school had boxes of donuts out- we had an activity in the morning, so i have almost 1-but not the whole thing and NO MORE. it was so hard!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents giving children unhealthy packed lunches research finds,” , 01/12/10
Source: “Food Revolution: Jamie Oliver vs. the USDA,”, 04/26/10
Image by salimfadhley, 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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