Blaming Parents for Childhood Obesity

Attack of the Stroller Moms

Is there no end to the things parents can be blamed for? Strollers! The Canadian Paediatric Society released a report about toddlers, ages one and two, claiming that 80% of them spend half their outdoor time in strollers. This represented only a fraction of the 1,000 children age five and below who were studied.

In response to that, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff was quoted as saying:

We have a ridiculous and toxic food environment and to try to put the blame on strollers is completely asinine.

Dr. Freedhoff went on to say, via his own website, that when it comes to kids ages one through five, the abuse of strollers would not even make the top 100 in the list of causes for the childhood obesity epidemic. The study was titled “Inactive Transport: Stroller Use and Physical Activity in Preschool Children: A Target Kids! Study,” and he said of it:

Never you mind that the study failed to include an objective measurement of activity in these kids to determine actual levels of physical activity, never you mind that we don’t have data on stroller use in the years before the rise of childhood obesity, never you mind that the calories burned even in active play for 1-5 year olds aren’t much to write home about, never you mind that studies on childhood obesity clearly suggest it’s not a problem of inactivity, and that in fact obesity leads to inactivity, not inactivity to obesity…

Well, you get the picture. But the main thing is, Dr. Freedhoff points out that the study did not even say what everybody claimed it said. According to him, it did not even suggest that time spent in a stroller even makes a difference at all!

Madeline Holler points out that “… [K]ids have very little control over the types of food they are exposed to and how often. What’s worse, the adults in their lives are often the biggest underminers…,” but she does not single out parents for blame. There is advertising, and, sadly, there is school:

Even beyond the marketing genius of adult strangers — those whose PhDs have helped them discover new and effective ways of getting a five-year-old to question his parents’ judgment, for example — kids get plenty of messages from other mom-approved adults that it’s OK and desirable to always be stuffing one’s mouth.

Do the math, Holler suggests. When an elementary school class might contain as many as 40 children, there will be a birthday practically every week. And then, the holiday parties either in school or out, and the birthday parties on weekends. It adds up. And kids are very uncomfortable having to refuse treats, being put in the position of demonstrating how they don’t fit in, because they’re too weird or too parentally overwhelmed to even eat a cupcake.

Not only that, but the writer says that in American schools, teachers still give out candy as a reward for good behavior or acing a test. She also points out something that Childhood Obesity News has mentioned before — the treats handed out or bought at fast food joints after extracurricular activities such as sports practices. Parents need to set high standards and model good habits at home, but they might also need to gather together and have a few words with the school administration.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study says kids spending too much time in strollers,”, 06/09/11
Source: “Are strollers contributing to childhood obesity?,” Weighty Matters,  06/21/11
Source: “Adults are Kids’ Worst Enemy When it Comes to Obesity Prevention,” Babble: Strollerderby, 02/21/12
Image by Serge Melki, 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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