Friends, Parents, and Childhood Obesity

Gabriel, Dana, Alison and Raven

Childhood Obesity News found many things of interest in the Duke University Medical Center study of social media in relation to childhood obesity. One aspect has not been touched on so far. While Dr. Jennifer S. Li, who is division chief of pediatric cardiology, and her group studied online and electronic social media, their report also had some things to say about IRL interactions — the ones that happen every day in real life.

In the case of both family and friends, an overweight or obese person is likely to share living space with others who are overweight or obese. Apparently, people are more comfortable hanging around with size-mates, or at least there seems to be a strong tendency in that direction. Dr. Li said:

Athletes tend to hang out with athletes, and overweight kids hang out together so they reinforce each other’s eating habits or preferences for recreational activities.

In a MedScape article about Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 19th European Congress on Obesity, Dr. Daniel M. Keller said much the same thing. Dr. Pretlow had talked about the “W8 Loss 2 Go” iPhone app, and Dr. Keller expressed optimism about the promise contained in the website/app combination.

A counterbalancing force for the positive needs to be in place, especially when potentially negative influences, like real-life friendships, are factored in. Dr. Keller wrote:

Studies have found that overweight children eat more when they are out with other overweight kids; the group legitimizes members using food to escape their problems. When a person becomes obese, the risk of his or her friends becoming obese rises by more than 50%.

Anyone who was ever young will remember that there is more than one kind of bullying. Perhaps even worse is the influence of the kid we wanted to be, whose life we wished we had.

Imagine this scenario: Every week, two sisters get the same amount of allowance and go to the dime store to look around. DeeDee always points out things she knows will attract Kate, and gushes, “Oh, you should buy this.” So Kate ends up buying a bunch of knick-knacks. Then, when they’re back home, DeeDee gloats, “You spent all your allowance but look, I still have all my money.”

Thinking back, we can all remember some strange dynamics at work in our relationships with other children. Some kids are into mind games at an astonishingly young age, and given the competitiveness and general anarchy of the teen years, it’s easy to imagine the Kafkaesque head trips which young girls, for instance, are capable of inflicting on each other. Wherever there is a kid trying to quit junk food, there might also be a “friend” who gets endless fun out of setting temptations in front of the abstemious one.

No parent can monitor every facet of a child’s relationships with peers, and only in extreme circumstances is it possible for a parent to choose a child’s friends. Well-meaning parents contribute to the problem too, of course, with generous offerings of soda and chips when the young folks bring guests home. Who wants to be the creep who says, “You kids stay out of the refrigerator”? Sometimes all a parent can do is provide good stuff, refrain from bringing in bad stuff, and hope for the best.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Social media may help fight childhood obesity,” Science Codex, 12/03/12
Source: “Dr. Pretlow and the 19th European Congress on Obesity,” Childhood Obesity News, 05/21/12
Image by Paul Schultz.

2 Responses

  1. Even when they are young, children should be aware of what is good for their health and what’s not. Or you can get them to visit an expert to help them like how the children health in Plano is done.

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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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