Childhood Obesity, Celebrities, and Eating Disorders (Part 1)


Consider the strange case of Beyoncé, who seems to be working both sides of the street in the childhood obesity neighborhood. Early in 2011, the world learned that the singing star, following in the footsteps of other celebrities like Jamie Oliver and Ellen DeGeneres, would lend her talents to the cause of quelling childhood obesity and averting a public health crisis. First Lady Michelle Obama appreciated the help for her “Let’s Move!” campaign, and of course Beyoncé’s song “Move Your Body” fit right in.

Designed to be played in middle schools, the singer’s exercise demonstration video featured an already existing song, rewritten for this project. Neon Limelight called it “an energetic track urging folks to get up and shake what their mama gave them to keep the pounds off.”

As journalist Melanie Warner noted, “the singer Beyoncé chomps on an apple (while dancing!)” and although she didn’t say it, what this reader inferred is that it might be a good way to choke to death. But maybe that isn’t what Warner meant, although she doesn’t think celebrities who aspire to be role models should ever represent junk food or sugar-sweetened beverages. Warner writes:

Kids old enough to remember will also recall something else Beyoncé told them to do — drink Pepsi. That was in 2002 and 2003 when the pop star was a Pepsi (PEP) spokesperson, appearing in multiple TV ads, like this one where she sings about the ‘joy of Pepsi.’

Although the “Move Your Body” video wasn’t scheduled to premier until May, there was plenty of advance press, not all of it favorable. Mikaela Conley of ABC News pointed out that Beyoncé danced in her “signature stilettos,” and although she didn’t say it, what this reader inferred is that it might be a good way to break an ankle. In fact, wearing high heels for plain old everyday walking, and not even for dancing, has long been discouraged by orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists. The distortion forced upon the rest of the body by high heels does not offer the body a single benefit.

And this was not the only objection. The prominent physician David L. Katz went on record as doubting the usefulness of celebrity participation because it can have unintended consequences.

Conley spoke with Dr. Jennifer Helmcamp of Scott & White Hospital in Austin, TX, who is both a pediatrician and an obesity expert. Dr. Helmcamp places much more credence in the importance of parental influence, believing that children will pretty much do what they see their parents do, including indulging in very detrimental eating habits. She was quoted as saying:

Celebrity campaigns primarily increase awareness… Michelle Obama has modeled behaviors such as planting gardens, exercising and talks about what she does at home to keep her kids healthy. Adding someone like Beyoncé to the campaign is great because she is a very visible influence on older children and teens.

Yes, and by shilling for a soft drink, what behavior is the influential Beyoncé modeling? Like Dr. Katz, Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt also expressed ambivalence about the celebrity connection, and mentioned the sometimes unexpected results that can stem from good intentions. She is uncomfortable with the whole notion of labeling kids as overweight or obese, and for a very definite reason:

We only want to do intervention on modifiable behavior and weight is not a modifiable behavior.

Right, because weight is not a behavior at all. A behavior is something that a person does, like comfort eating, and that is modifiable.

(to be continued… )

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Video: Beyoncé Releases ‘Move Your Body’ For Michelle Obama’s Childhood Obesity Campaign,” Neon Limelight, 04/09/11
Source: “Mixed Messages: How Beyoncé Was For Soda Before She Was Against It,” CBS News, 04/13/11
Source: “Beyoncé Joins Michelle Obama’s Initiative To Fight Childhood Obesity,” ABC News, 04/29/11
Image by healthiermi (A Healthier Michigan).

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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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