Anything But Sweets on Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Cookies

Did we not, very, very recently, just get finished discussing Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and other winter celebrations, and their relationship to childhood obesity? Now here comes another holiday, and this one doesn’t even have any cranberries or turkey attached to it. Nope. Without an iota of shame, Valentine’s Day is all about the sugar. (In the picture, note the symbolic ominous dark shadows cast by the scrumptious treats.)

In Newton, MA, a school principal named Mark Nardelli got to thinking about this. School policy is against sharing food, and the institution tries to make every day a healthy eating day. Furthermore, in recent years, Valentine’s Day has really gotten out of hand.

Deirdre Fernandes, of The Globe in Boston, tells us that Nardelli asked parents to substitute the sweets with little gifts like pencils, stamps, bookmarks, or even “a nice note.” As of the day he was interviewed, no parent had yet complained. The reporter adds:

Horace Mann Elementary School parent and local blogger Emily Norton said she is thrilled with Nardelli’s attempt to start a new Valentine’s Day tradition. Norton said last year her children fought over sharing the candy once they got home and then she had to battle them to stop them from eating the sweets.

Fox News got in touch with Dr. Pretlow and asked for his take on this, and he replied:

I applaud the Newton school principal’s stand against Valentine’s Day candy. Our country absolutely has to implement such draconian measures if we are to curb the horrific childhood obesity epidemic. Emerging evidence is pointing to food addiction, involving highly pleasurable foods, as a significant cause of the childhood obesity epidemic.

Children eat junk food, such as Valentine’s Day treats, because it tastes good and is readily available. The problem is that the brain insidiously undergoes changes to keep the behavior going, until at some point the child may be unable to stop eating the junk food — an actual addiction. Obesity can be the result. Brain imaging studies are now showing this.

We conducted an online survey of overweight children coming to our website, asking, ‘Do you have a problem with mainly one food?’ 61% of 84 overweight kids responding indicate that they have a problem with mainly one food. We asked what food. Candy and chocolate topped their list.

For further study, Dr. Pretlow suggested the paper he has published last year, “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study” (PDF). For anyone who wants to not only know, but to do something, we suggest Dr. Pretlow’s presentation on the iPhone app he has developed, “W8 Loss 2 Go.” (It’s about a 3MB download; link is PDF.)

When The Huffington Post picked up the story of Horace Mann Elementary School’s effort to break new ground, on the childhood obesity front, Laura Hibbard also included an interesting anecdote:

Back in December, a Florida 10-year-old was arrested and charged with battery after allegedly attacking her teacher when the educator confiscated the student’s halloween candy.

Now, first of all, who still has Halloween candy in December? At any rate, the confiscation was not even permanent, but only until the end of the school day. But the girl freaked out, perhaps from eating too much sugar. The police report says she threw objects from the teacher’s desk, hit the teacher in the stomach and side, and threatened to kill the teacher and her family.

If candy brings on behavior like that, schools don’t need it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugar-free Valentine’s Day at one Newton school,”, 01/31/12
Source: “Valentine’s Day Candy Banned By Horace Mann School In Massachusetts,” The Huffington Post, 02/01/12
Image by WordRidden (Jessica Spengler), used under its Creative Commons license.

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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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