Fattitudes and Childhood Obesity

Children Walking on Trail

Take obesity… please. Standup comic Greg Giraldo made fun of the media for hyping the obesity epidemic as if it were as frightening and destructive as the polio epidemic of the early 1950s. (Five-minute video, adult material.) And he had a point. Compared to some of the other things going on in the world, being too fat can look like a pretty ridiculous problem to have.

On the other hand, the serious hand, anybody who looks into the matter will come away feeling apprehensive, and with good reason. Childhood obesity is already a gigantic ticking time bomb, and most of the damage it will do is irreversible. A lot of obese kids have already grown into obese adults with huge obesity-related medical bills, but that’s nothing compared to what we can look forward to 20, 30 years down the line.

The mission of the International Size Acceptance Association is:

… to promote size acceptance and fight size discrimination throughout the world by means of advocacy and visible, lawful actions… to end the most common form of size discrimination and bigotry — that against fat children and adults… to defend the human rights of members affected by other forms of size discrimination as well.

Well, okay, but it can be troubling to see people putting so much energy into this, especially when children and teens are reached by messages that seem to imply that obesity isn’t a problem. For a magazine called BBTeenz (Big Beautiful Teens), young people are encouraged to make recordings and send them in:

Podcasts of encouragement from your personal experiences are highly encouraged. Have some ideas that worked for you to make life easier as a BBTeen? Pass them along!

Many healers realize that until a person loves and accepts herself as she is, she can’t change. Same goes for males, of course. Yes, someone who wants to gain maximum health needs to have a certain amount of self-esteem on board, to even begin such a project. But an excessive amount of acceptance can lead to some strange byways, of which Dr. Pretlow describes one:

Actually, there are a fair number of self-described ‘gainers’ out there, who profess to enjoy being fat and eating whatever they want. Perhaps some kids actually do become obese voluntarily and are content remaining so. Nevertheless, the vast majority of obese kids appear to be addicted to certain foods, typically highly pleasurable foods. They hate being fat and struggle desperately to lose weight or maintain it.

When I have done presentations, obese attendees have protested about my claiming that most obese kids are unhappy being fat. One such protester was the obese president of [a prominent group of childhood obesity professionals], whose attendees the chair said were ‘stunned’ by my presentation. I am outraged when obese physicians profess that kids aren’t unhappy or at health risk being fat.

Attitudes are of course determined by personality, and who would have guessed that, for instance, being a perfectionist can lead to an eating disorder? This and many other topics are discussed in “Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?” by The Wall Street Journal writer Melinda Beck.

One of her sources was Angelina R. Sutin of the National Institute on Aging, who published the results of a 50-year study of nearly 2,000 residents of Baltimore, MD. Beck says:

… [T]hose who scored high on neuroticism — the tendency to easily experience negative emotions — and low on conscientiousness, or being organized and disciplined, were the most likely to be overweight and obese. Impulsivity was strongly linked to BMI, too: The subjects in the top 10% of impulsivity weighed, on average, 24 pounds more than those in the lowest 10%. People who rated themselves low on ‘agreeableness’ were the most likely to gain weight over the years.

Uh-oh, that all sounds a bit controversial! It gets worse. People who are very giving and solicitous of the needs of others often can’t find or accept the same kind of nurturing in return. They tend to suffer from emotional burnout that leads them to seek solace in food instead. People who constantly give, and who don’t get back at least some gratitude or appreciation, can develop unpleasant emotions. Rather than stuffing those emotions down and smothering them with food, experts recommend relieving that stress by journaling or ranting in a mirror.

The personality can affect the BMI in another way: “night owls” set themselves up for obesity in several ways which are explained here, as are the reasons to be concerned about childhood obesity:

Early life experiences also set the stage for overeating years later, researchers have found… The link between emotions, food and weight control starts at a very early age.

As Childhood Obesity News has mentioned many times, the Weigh2Rock kids from whom Dr. Pretlow gathers opinions are fed up with nutrition information. This sentiment is echoed by author and weight-loss coach Renée Stephens who says:

Is there anybody who doesn’t know that broccoli is better for you than a Big Mac? What’s important is identifying what’s going on in our heads and what we’re using the food for.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Lazyboy — Underwear Goes Inside The Pants,” YouTube.com
Source: “ISAA Mission Statement,” Size-Acceptance.org
Source: “Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?,” The Wall Street Journal, 01/10/12
Image by vastateparksstaff, used under its Creative Commons license.

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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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