Dear Grandkid, Meet Your Fat Cells

Connective Tissue -- Adipocyte

I’m so glad you shared with me your worries about putting on too much weight. It shows that you are thinking about things, which is always a plus. Especially, thinking about your own future. And while we’re on that subject, you’re probably wondering about the picture of a fat cell up at the top of the page. It was drawn by a doctor who teaches other doctors. What I’m saying is, if you’re not doing well in art class, don’t worry. You can still look forward to a career in medicine.

I bet you have heard that carrying around too many pounds when you are young can make it harder and harder to become fit. Every year that goes by, the flab gets more stubborn. It’s like a lot of other things you’ve probably noticed about life. Fat is way more difficult to fix later, so if you can figure out a way to fix it now, you’re so much better off.

How do we know this? If you want a crash course in what fat cells are all about, take a look at this Web page, Overweight & Obesity, from Indiana University, or more accurately, from its department of Clinical Exercise Physiology. But never mind that. The main mission here is to delve into the secrets of fat, and they are nasty.

For one thing, fat doesn’t just sit there looking lumpy. It does a lot of things in the body besides add bulk. Of course, it is the fuel the body runs on, but it does other stuff too, like keep all your organs nice and warm. It’s also a storage place for major vitamins like A, D, E, and K, and, in some cases, for THC molecules and other miscellaneous chemicals.

When we get to the subheading “Endocrine Function,” things really get interesting. Or creepy. Did you know that each fat cell is a busy little factory that can squirt out more than 30 chemicals? And each and every one of them can make something else happen inside your body. Which might make you decide those little boogers are worth keeping an eye on.

Basically, there are two ways for fat to take over. Each individual fat cell can get bigger (technically, hypertrophic obesity). Or more fat cells can be created. The second possibility is known as hyperplastic obesity, and the reason why it’s so bad is because those fat cells will always be with you. That’s right, there is no getting rid of them. Each fat cell might plump up or shrink down, as the years go by, but you will never have fewer of them than you do at this moment. As the university website puts it:

80% with hyperplastic obesity have difficulties reducing excess body fat because the fat cells are increased in number rather than in size. The number of fat cells can never be reduced.

Now, search the page for “puberty,” a word I’m sure you’ve heard a lot recently. See where it says puberty is a critical time for the number of fat cells to increase? What they’re saying is, a teenager faces a big problem that was not there in the days of 2nd grade or 4th grade. Going into your teens, it’s a whole new world, and just for the record, I hope you have a boatload of fun.

But turning into a teenager — and I’m sure you’ve heard this before from grownups — is also a time of challenges. This exciting, interesting, etc., part of life does have its own special hidden traps, and this is one of them. Putting on an unhealthy padding of fat now can really, really mess you up later.

By the way, if you have any questions, send them along. I know a doctor I can ask!

Source: “Overweight & Obesity,”
Image by Open.Michigan.

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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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