More About Early Intervention

the backyard

Last time, Childhood Obesity News considered a study that showed the stress of poverty leading to depressed mothers and overfed, obese infants. Now, what about the effect of financial rewards on adults? The Mayo Clinic did a study that included 100 employees or dependents of employees and followed them for a year, which is longer than previous financial motivation studies have lasted.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Steven Driver, M.D., and team divided the subjects into four groups. Two were offered financial rewards and two groups were not. The Mayo Clinic says:

All participants were given a goal of losing 4 pounds per month up to a predetermined goal weight… Participants in the incentive groups who met their goals received $20 per month, while those who failed to meet their targets paid $20 each month into a bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who completed the study were eligible to win the pool by lottery.

Study completion rates for the incentive groups were significant compared with the non-incentive groups: 62 percent versus 26 percent. In the incentive groups, participants’ mean weight loss was 9.08 pounds, compared with 2.34 pounds for the non-incentive groups.

The weird part is, even the participants who had to pay penalties — who lost money — were more likely to stick with the program than the control groups who didn’t have the lure and reward of $20. This may show that human responses to situations involving both food and money are far from rational.

Importance of Early Intervention

These side trails are interesting and revealing, but tangential to the main subject of recent posts — the importance of early intervention in preventing childhood obesity. We have also looked at the many reasons why this is so important. Here is another one, from the University of Illinois, whose recent study:

[…] established a possible link between high-fat diets and such childhood brain-based conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and memory-dependent learning disabilities.

Experiments with mice indicate that a high intake of fat affects the metabolism of dopamine in the brain. Anxiety and learning deficiencies are the results. Naturally, anything that affects a child’s ability to do well in school must be addressed, and the anxiety factor is just as serious if not more so.

Anxiety is a cause of compulsive eating, and compulsive eating is a road down which we don’t want kids to go. Here are some details, quoted in ScienceDaily, from Prof. Gregory Freund:

After only one week of the high-fat diet, even before we were able to see any weight gain, the behavior of the mice in the first group began to change.

One of the effects was memory loss, which was able to be reversed by putting the mice back on a low-fat diet. Here is the ominous part:

In mice that continued on the high-fat diet, impaired object recognition remained three weeks after the onset of symptoms. But Freund knows from other studies that brain biochemistry normalizes after 10 weeks as the body appears to compensate for the diet. At that point, brain dopamine has returned to normal, and mice have become obese and developed diabetes…

The researchers […] saw evidence that a high-fat diet initiates chemical responses that are similar to the ones seen in addiction, with dopamine, the chemical important to the addict’s pleasurable experiences, increasing in the brain.

This may fit in with one of the findings of the EarlyBird Diabetes Study, which contradicts some of the established beliefs about insulin resistance. This problem was previously thought to be linked to the onset of puberty, triggering a tendency to develop diabetes. The EarlyBird researchers say that on the contrary, insulin resistance begins many years before. This is a major piece of knowledge, they say, because because while puberty can’t be helped, obesity can be prevented, and the earlier the better.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Money Talks When It Comes to Losing Weight, Mayo Clinic Study Finds,”, 03/07/13
Source: “Is There a Link Between Childhood Obesity and ADHD, Learning Disabilities?,” ScienceDaily, 02/19/13
Source: “Key Findings from EarlyBird,”
Image by MissMessie.

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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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