Childhood Obesity and Violence


Childhood Obesity News and about a million other websites have rung the alarm bells over and over about the causative relationships between obesity in the child’s early life and the astonishing number of maladies that start to kick in sooner or later, leading to a lifetime of suffering and expense.

This is all very disturbing, but one possible outcome is particularly foreboding. In The Louisiana Weekly, Kelly Parker mentions one of the occasions when a link was noticed between violence (or at least a troublingly chaotic lifestyle) and the consumption of junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages. Parker says:

In 2009, research led by Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in violence and society research at Cardiff University in the U.K., showed that ‘kids with the worst problems tend to be impulsive risk takers and that these kids had terrible diets — breakfast was Coke and a bag of chips,’ for example.

More recently, 1,878 Boston teenagers supplied the raw material for a study, published in Injury Prevention, of the relationship between violence and the consumption of five or more cans of soda pop per week. As it turns out, these youth are “significantly more likely to behave aggressively.” Aggression is measured by such criteria as carrying a weapon and being violent against family members, friends, and partners.

The report suggested that the undesirable behavior could be caused by sugar and caffeine in soft drinks, but they don’t discount “other factors” that could be the cause of both. Kids who drink a lot of soda pop, coincidentally, are more prone to using alcohol and nicotine. And to be obese.

But let’s get back to Kelly Parker and the heartening story of a remarkable New Orleans institution, the Rethinkers. Louisiana is the state with the fourth highest obesity rate in the United States, and the Office of Juvenile Justice supervises the lives of more than 4,000 kids, for reasons that often involve violence. The Rethinkers are kids in the 8 to 18 age range, and their ideas about school reform are presented to the world via an annual press conference.

When these events take place, the audience is packed with not only journalists, but school officials and community members. The Rethinkers have also captured the attention of the ubiquitous Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and another group, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing. This year’s press conference was titled, “Candy Bars, Prison Bars — How Schools Can Reverse the Major Youth Epidemics of Our Time.”

These young people see a connection between childhood obesity and the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Rethinker Vernard Carter is quoted:

The school-to-prison pipeline is when children are pushed out of school because of many policies and pushed into the juvenile justice system… We as young people most affected by these epidemics should be at the forefront of this fight for change.

The kids have learned that black youth are disproportionately affected by both violence and childhood obesity. They believe that the combination of stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise combined can cause bad behavior in school. When children are suspended or expelled, it brings them to the attention of the juvenile justice system, and they have a lot more time and opportunity to get in trouble out in the larger world.

At their press conference, the Rethinkers offered 12 recommendations, including changes in the contents of school vending machines and the types of foods sold at school events. They recommend two 10-minute exercise breaks per day for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade. Parker quotes another Rethinker, 4th-grader Ron Triggs:

All students need to exercise, so they can burn off energy and focus in class. If some don’t exercise, they will act out and get in trouble. We have P.E. in my school, but not every week.

These kids would like to see cooking and gardening taught at every school, with the gardens kept open after hours, as well as other community-building activities. If teachers want to hand out rewards to students, sugary treats should not be given.

Rethinker Jada Cooper says that a lot of girls opt out of Physical Education because the activities are often “geared to male students.” (What on Earth does that mean, and how difficult could it be to fix?) One of their thoughtful suggestions for the improvement of their schools has nothing to do with obesity, but these kids are very interested in learning more about conflict resolution and restorative justice.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Rethinkers take on ‘Candy Bars, Prison Bars,’The Louisiana Weekly, 07/225/11
Source: “High Fizzy Soft Drink Consumption Linked to Violence Among Teens,” ScienceDaily, 10/24/11
Image by Aislinn Richie, 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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