The Dark Side of the EarlyBird Diabetes Study

girl at playground

Childhood Obesity News has looked at some of the “Key Findings from EarlyBird,” many of which are unexpected, counter-intuitive, and/or controversial. Some of the underlying premises of the whole Let’s Move! program are challenged by the EarlyBird observations about childhood obesity.

When the lead researcher, Prof. Terrence Wilkin, wrote to Michelle Obama, it’s not surprising that he didn’t hear back. The letter was also rejected for publication by the New England Journal of Medicine, as Dr. Pretlow learned at the ECO 2012 conference. We don’t know what it said, but here is what the “Key Findings” page says:

Children’s activity not determined by environmental opportunity… not determined by environmental provision. Those who do less in school do more out of school, and end up doing the same overall… [W]e question Government policy of linking physical activity to recreational facilities.

Many Americans, some of whom not even fans of the First Lady, cherish a belief that green spaces and sports centers are needed to reduce childhood obesity. It’s hard to argue against; it seems fairly obvious that recreational facilities are necessary for many reasons. Some of those reasons probably influence childhood obesity in oblique, indirect ways. But the EarlyBird Study indicates that there is no measurable direct benefit. This goes against everything that the well-meaning civic initiatives and organizations have been working toward.

Another aspect seems to have eluded discussion, and it could be a very volatile topic. Though a family’s socio-economic level may once have been a factor in childhood obesity, the EarlyBird researchers conclude that this is no longer true. In other words, demographics can’t predict a child’s obesity status by zip code or school district or any other marker of income, because all kids are equally at risk. The report says:

Social inequality is not associated with physical inactivity:… Social inequality is not associated with metabolic risk… We have re-examined the link between deprivation, obesity and metabolic risk in contemporary UK children. Our data do not support the assumption that obesity, metabolic disturbance and thus risk of type 2 diabetes are more prevalent among less affluent children.

Taking the opposite view is Amy Hodges, who describes a new study from Rachel Tolbert Kimbro and Justin Denney of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, and here is how she sums it up:

Children living in poorer neighborhoods are nearly 30 percent more likely to be obese than children in more affluent residences… The researchers based their conclusions on a comparison of 17,530 5-year-old children living in approximately 4,700 neighborhoods nationwide.

That’s a lot of children, many more than encompassed by the EarlyBird Study.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Key Findings from EarlyBird,”
Source: “Childhood obesity more likely to affect children in poorer neighborhoods,”, 11/09/12
Image by (Joelle Inge-Messerschmidt).

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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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