Childhood Obesity Changes and Stays the Same

Project Parent 365

Just pick three random headlines:

Parents influence kids on eating, fitness
Parents misjudge risks of childhood obesity, survey finds
Parents in survey take responsibility for childhood obesity

The first one pertains to Duke University which, like so many other institutions, has reaffirmed that children are influenced by their parents. This has been known throughout history. Sometimes it’s just very basic “monkey-see, monkey-do” instinct to imitate the big people and survive. Kids sometimes do what their parents want, out of fear or respect or love.

But sometimes, they do the very opposite. Parental influence can be twisted into unhealthy shapes. Somewhere out there, a teenage boy stays fat just to show his trim mother that she is not the boss of him. Somewhere out there, a young woman is bulking up to deflect the unwanted attention of a male relative. These situations lead to more than a visit to the Husky Kiddo department. They lead to a dependency on eating that is just as serious as any hard-drug addiction.

This does not indict Duke University or anyone else as being flat-out wrong, only incomplete. Researchers can talk about energy, calories, exercise, diet, obesogens, and many other topics all day long without ever acknowledging the sorry truth, which is that human behavior is emotion-driven. What this means in conceptual terms is that the world of childhood obesity is more nuanced than it might appear at first glance. In practical terms, it means that anyone seeking to end obesity should know as much about addiction as they know about nutrition.

Skewed vision

The second headline refers to a Harvard study of another phenomenon that has also been observed since the dawn of time. Parents see their own kids through multiple lenses, psychologically-created filters, rose-colored glasses, and sometimes through the wrong end of the telescope. Here is a quotation from the report:

Almost every parent included in the survey (95%) acknowledged that exercise and good nutrition are important components in keeping their children at a healthy weight. However, significant portions of parents said they encountered obstacles in ensuring their children eat well (44%) and engage in physical activity (36%).

Exercise and diet; diet and exercise. The survey didn’t ask any parents whether they had ever considered seeking out a 12-step program for their child, or for themselves. Self-reporting has got to be unreliable, anyway. Understood, funding is short, and institutions must resort to the type of research that depends on asking people questions about themselves and their parenting skills, and about how their children prosper and blossom.

It is also economical to do meta-studies, recycling old data and crunching the numbers in new ways, to pan the last nuggets of gold. In either case, the old Romans would have said, “Caveat emptor” — buyer, beware.

Next, Yale University is heard from, with the story titled “Parents in survey take responsibility for childhood obesity.” The subjects were nearly 2,500 parents who were asked about food marketing. Their average income, incidentally, was $59,000 per year, and their answers to the survey questions placed a precise 60% of the childhood obesity blame on themselves and other parents.

Of course, in the broadest and most basic sense, parents are to blame for everything. They always do too much, or not enough, or do it too soon or too late. The list of possible ways in which parents can mess up is a very, very long list. But mostly, they just don’t know what’s what.

It was to address this information vacuum that Dr. Pretlow created the presentation titled, “Compulsive Eating/Addiction Intervention for Obesity Implemented as a Smartphone App: A Pilot Study.” Now, any Childhood Obesity News reader can share this experience with the attendees of the 2013 European Congress on Obesity, without the inconvenience of a trip to Liverpool. Enjoy!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents influence kids on eating, fitness,”, 06/25/13
Source: “Parents Misjudge Risks of Childhood Obesity, Survey Finds,”, 04/24/13
Source: “Parents in survey take responsibility for childhood obesity,” LA Times, 11/01/12
Image by BuckDaddy.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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