The Childhood Obesity Talk, Part 2

Serious talk

Reporter Helena Oliviero says:

Talking to kids about weight can be difficult for parents. In fact, nearly one in four parents is uncomfortable talking about weight with his or her kids, according to a 2011 survey sponsored by WebMD and Sanford Health. For parents of teens, no other topic makes them cringe more. Not drugs (6% uncomfortable), not sex (12% uncomfortable).

Just for reference, “nearly one in four” means nearly one quarter of them, or close to 25%. To put it another way, twice as many parents are uneasy about The Talk when the subject is a child’s overweight condition, as when The Talk is about sex. To phrase it yet another way, four times as many parents are nervous about the Obesity Talk, as are nervous about the Drug Talk.

The reason is easy to see. The discussion about sex or drugs concerns what a person does, while the discussion about obesity concerns what a person is. This is why savvy health professionals recommend taking the emphasis off obesity and putting it on health, and what a person does, such as eat sparingly, choose good foods, and get plenty of physical exercise.

Parents may not be aware that their children are headed down the obesity path, and some school districts in some states help them out by sending home what is colloquially known as a “fat letter.” Massachusetts, for instance, has implemented a weight screening program since 2009, like 20 other states. The school measures the child’s height and Body Mass Index (BMI) and looks on the chart to see if the child is height-weight proportional. Reporter Alan Mozes writes:

In Massachusetts, where parents are letter-informed of BMI results for students in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10, the state department of public health is currently debating a possible repeal of the letter portion of its screening protocol.

Some parents object to what they consider an unwarranted intrusion into their business. Some parents and some health care professionals believe that “fat letters” can lead to eating disorders, bullying, and other potentially devastating outcomes, but others say that no studies have proven these worries to be true.

In the Canadian city of Windsor, the situation has become intense because 42% of the city’s youth are defined as overweight or obese. That is 15 percentage points higher than the province of Ontario as a whole, which isn’t that great to begin with. The schools have a healthy snack program called Jump Start, and the government keeps an eye on the foods that are sold, and requires that kids get 20 minutes of physical activity per day when school is in session.

While the authorities collect ideas about what else can be done, “fat letters” do not come in for very much approval. Journalist Brian Cross interviewed the CEO of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Dr. Gary Kirk, who does not care for the idea one bit. He quotes Dr. Kirk:

You don’t want to single out individuals and make them feel worse about themselves. The idea is through positive action to create some positive behavioral changes that will help that individual and society in general.

And in Kirk’s eyes, the kids are not at fault because they are only imitating their parents, who keep the adult overweight/obesity rate at a whopping 61%.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hospital offers help for ‘The Talk’ about childhood obesity,”, 09/05/12
Source: “’Fat Letters’ and the Childhood Obesity Debate,” WebMD, 08/21/13
Source: “’Fat letters’ not a good way to combat childhood obesity, doc says,”, 08/21/13
Image by Miguel Pimentel.

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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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