Childhood Obesity and the Frenemy

So, basically, I grew up in a party

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring the many advantages and benefits of networking with social media. But rarely is a blessing unalloyed in this world. The whole social media revolution arrived with its own set of ready-made problems, though not all of them impact the possibility of doing good work in such areas as childhood obesity. But there can be a lot of overlap.

The built-in problem of susceptibility, for instance. Adults’ intentions don’t even need to be criminal, only mercenary, like those of the advertisers of junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages. To call them evil might be going overboard, but they are certainly not bluebirds of happiness, and thanks to the Internet their access to kids’ eyeballs and minds is exponentially greater than ever before.

Teenagers, and especially children, want to reach out and connect and trust. They have foggy notions about cause and effect, and the online world includes predators. The specter of children being groomed for molestation seems like a different category of problem from childhood obesity, at first glance.

But why are some kids ready to be victimized by adults? Because of low self-esteem, we are told. What causes low self-esteem? Sometimes, it’s the awareness of being overweight and the fear of being perceived as fat by others. Helping kids achieve healthy weight could prevent other kinds of trouble down the road, which is another good reason to make it a concern. Social media open the door to a lot of things we could do without.

That’s pretty much the conclusion that business experts came to, in a study whose results were released earlier this year:

It would be worthwhile for researchers and policy makers to further explore social network use in order to better understand which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to suffering negative psychological or social consequences.

The study’s co-authors are Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh, and Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School. The title is, “Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control,” and the paper was published online by the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in the June 2013 print edition.

Journalist Evan Nowell explains that the work included results of five separate studies whose subjects were more than 1,000 Facebook members. The questions included the participants’ body mass indexes and their credit card spending patterns and totals. The study differentiated between strong ties and weak ties, which makes sense. A person might have 4,799 Facebook friends, but only regularly interact with a small fraction of them. Not surprisingly, the research found that the good opinion of a strongly tied friend is more important and influential than that of some random acquaintance.

To digress from that study, the same does not appear to be true of at least one category of adults. Going by the testimony of comedians and other show business figures who talk frankly about their professional lives, people who make their living in the creative arts are even more susceptible to criticism than insecure children. Many performers agree that no matter how “weak” the tie, a hate-blast from one Twitter follower can negate the good effect of a hundred positive comments, even from respected colleagues, i.e. “strong” ties.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Social networks may inflate self-esteem, reduce self-control,” EurekAlert!, 01/14/13
Image by See-ming Lee.

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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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