Childhood Obesity and Honey Boo Boo


Not long ago, Charlotte Green observed:

We don’t often ask ourselves when we watch shows like ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ if the kinds of eating habits that Mama is giving Honey Boo Boo at such a young age could be considered abuse.

And indeed, a brief perusal of the child star’s career seems to indicate that much more attention has been paid to her makeup than her nutrition. Still, she is so famous that an immensely popular animated show created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone has covered her story in an episode titled “James Cameron Saves the World from Honey Boo Boo.” The picture on this page is their representation of little Alana and her very large mom.

Some people don’t watch shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” so for their benefit, here’s the scoop. This chunky little girl named Alana has been in a bunch of beauty contests. Of course there’s nothing wrong when an overweight child is considered just as pretty and appealing as a normal-weight child. An obese kid can be as talented, charming, and attractive as a slim kid. And to even discuss this at all, a person has to put aside all questions about the legitimacy and usefulness of child beauty contests.

Well, the long and short of it is, Alana and her family are featured in a “reality” show about her life. For instance, in one of the many video clips made available online, Alana visits her modeling coach, who advises her to be more graceful. It is possible for large and obese people to be graceful. But this goal is easier to accomplish when not quite so many pounds are hanging around.

The network that produces the show is called The Learning Channel, and that raises an interesting question. What, exactly, are we learning here? Green seems to imply that we’re learning to feed small children a steady diet of soda pop and snacks, with not a single vegetable on the horizon.

Another critic, Joe Hotchkiss, makes mom June Shannon sound like the mayor of Bad Decisionville:

The TV show is a veritable video primer for rotten health choices. Just a few examples:
• To pep herself up before performing at her kiddie beauty pageants, 7-year-old Honey Boo Boo will steadily sip a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull.
• On at least one occasion, family members consumed puffed cheese snacks for breakfast.
• The family recipe for spaghetti consists of mixing a tub of margarine with a bottle of ketchup, which is then poured over boiled spaghetti noodles.

Hotchkiss consulted Chris Edwards, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University, who said, “It just astonishes me, the level of inappropriate diet and activities.” If he were asked to advise the family, Dr. Edwards would start by working toward the elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages. Next to go would be snacks, and eventually he would hope to teach the parents how to prepare healthful meals. And then Dr. Edwards says:

I personally find it sad to watch. It makes me sad that we seem to celebrate this type of behavior. Even if we are kind of all joking and laughing about it, we still are promoting it because it’s on TV.

But that’s nothing compared to the well-publicized and largely profane words of singer and actor Adam Levine, who called Honey Boo Boo’s parents ignorant idiots, and the show an atrocity. TV personality Joy Behar entered the controversy with a prediction for the future:

What’s little Honey Boo Boo going to grow up to be? That’s what I want to know. She’s going to be a fat kid; she’s going to grow up to be a big fat woman. She is, I can tell. She’s just a kid, but you see the genetics are right there.

Howard Lee, on the other hand, expresses a different view:

What we found was the candor, love, outright comedy, and warmth that surrounded Alana from mom June, dad Sugar Bear, and sisters Pumpkin, Jessica, and Anna. Never had a family been so blunt and honest in how they approach life.

Howard Lee happens to be a network executive, senior VP of production and development, so we might take his opinion with a grain of salt. There’s no doubt that Honey Boo Boo — and perhaps her popularity — is shorthand for many of our cultural fears concerning childhood obesity and socioeconomics.

What about it, readers? Is Honey Boo Boo an abused child?

Source: “Discussion: Is Childhood Obesity Society’s Responsibility?,” Thought Catalog, 10/15/12
Source: “’Honey Boo Boo’ reality show shows darker reality on health,” The Augusta Chronicle, 09/30/12
Source: “Adam Levine Bashes ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,’ Calls It ‘Decay Of Western Civilization’,” The Huffington Post, 12/03/12
Source: “’Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’: TLC’s Howard Lee Explains Shows Origins,” The Huffington Post, 12/10/12
Image by South Park.

One Response

  1. This goes further and opens a discussion to what is allowed on public television. I haven’t seen the show and have no desire to as I get frustrated walking around a mall watching parents letting their children consume ice cream with every candy topping then washing it down with a soda as an after school snack. People enjoy watching car wrecks on television. Maybe it makes them feel better in comparison or provides them an excuse to go about their lives with poor choices. Teaching a child habits that can kill them (i.e. smoking, alcohol, drugs … obesity) can be a form of child abuse at a certain level. A state or city should get involved when tax dollars are having to be used to treat that obese child’s health issues.

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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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