Positive Deviants and Other Early Interventionists

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There are studies showing that poverty correlates with childhood obesity. For instance, in 2010 Harvard Medical School issued study results that showed:

[…] black and Hispanic children were more likely than white children to have gained weight rapidly during infancy. What’s more, they spent less time breast-feeding, were introduced to solid foods sooner, consumed more fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, slept less, and had television sets in their bedrooms during the first three years of life — all risk factors for childhood obesity. Black and Hispanic mothers were also more likely to begin their pregnancies overweight or obese…

Childhood Obesity News has talked a lot about the EarlyBird Diabetes Study, which brought a lot of interesting facts to life. But there is a drawback — it’s almost all white. The subjects are 250 kids, of whom only five are mixed-race and the rest are Caucasian. Is this why they produced different results?

The EarlyBird Study results declared that social inequality is not associated with physical inactivity, and that kids who have green spaces and sports centers do not gain from their privileges because having those facilities available doesn’t influence the level of a child’s activity. The report said:

Like most things biological, a child’s activity level seems to be ‘set’ by the brain, and therefore strongly defended against change… The assumption that children of lower socio-economic status suffer from their lack of structured opportunity for physical activity is not reflected in the evidence. Indeed, analysis suggests that poorer boys may be marginally more, rather than less, active than those who are wealthier.

Social inequalities no longer a major factor in obesity. All children today are at risk, regardless of family income or postcode.

The EarlyBird Study is undeniably right about its main conclusion — the importance of early intervention. Why? The study authors state unequivocally:

EarlyBird finds that over 90% of the excess weight in girls, and over 70% in boys, is gained before the child ever gets to school age… Most excess weight is gained before the child ever starts school. School initiatives are probably too late.

Some parents are anxious to know what they can do right now, for babies and preschool-age children. The InteliHealth website recommends several courses of action — breastfeed if possible, avoid overfeeding a baby, and leave the fruit juice in the supermarket.

Another suggestion is, don’t take along juice or milk on outings. Water is fine, and everybody needs plenty of it every day, but except under unusual circumstances, it shouldn’t be necessary to take along other drinks or food.

Many American children never have the chance to discover that, if they are hungry for a little while, the world won’t end. MedPage Today recommends pretty much the same list, and adds this interesting thought:

Seeking solutions from ‘positive deviants,’ i.e., families who have succeeded where many others have not to change their health behaviors, maintain their child’s body mass index, and develop resilience in the context of sometimes adverse environments, could provide strategies for interventions that can be generalized and promoted to improve the outcomes of other children.

Positive deviants are people like the Talifero family, who believe not only in starting early, but in setting the bar really high. They advocate the Garden Diet  — “100% raw organic vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and sprouts.” The mother, Jinjee, experienced two births when living on a cooked vegan diet, and two births when on a raw-vegan diet, and says the latter two were painless. They made a fascinating indie film, Breakthrough (available by subscription), which features such marvels as these:

Storm’s 300 lb. nephew is filmed over a three month period losing 75 lbs. on the raw vegan diet. In an exhilarating sequence of scenes Storm’s eldest son Snow who was born raw-vegan and spent much of his life as a raw-vegan is shown climbing 7-story high Gibraltar Rock in Santa Barbara with no ropes.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Targeting childhood obesity early,” Harvard Gazette, 09/18/12
Source: “Key Findings from EarlyBird,” EarlyBirdDiabetes.org
Source: “Study: Kids’ Weight Gain Comes Early,” InteliHealth.com, 01/05/09
Source: “Target Obesity Early to Succeed in Kids,” MedPage Today, 10/29/12
Image by lecates.

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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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