Childhood Obesity and Self-Efficacy

little girl on a swing

Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at a video from Yale University’s Rudd Center, one of the world’s obesity-fighting focal points. This and similar works that educate painlessly will help America get over the idea that stigmatization is somehow necessary in promoting awareness of the need to lose weight. What they hope to promote instead is awareness of the harm inherent in fat-shaming, even when it is done with good intentions.

What we learned there was that messages that focus on behavioral change are more likely to succeed in influencing people who are overweight and obese. Actually, the most influential messages of the genre are those that don’t mention obesity at all. It’s also a plus if the anti-obesity advertisement or public service announcement avoids depicting obese people, and if it promotes physical activities that anyone can participate in, such as brisk walking.

“Public Reactions to Obesity-Related Health Campaigns” is narrated by Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., Director of Research & Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center. Looking further into Dr. Puhl’s past work, we find that “self-efficacy” is a word she uses very often. When it comes to maintaining a body that is height-weight proportional, one might say self-efficacy is the name of the game. But what does it mean, and why it such a big deal?

According to an article by Kendra Cherry, the originator of this term was psychologist Albert Bandura who in 1977 published a paper titled “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change.” Bandura was into social cognitive theory, which “emphasizes the role of observational learning, social experience, and reciprocal determinism in the development of personality.”

A person has to believe in her or his ability to handle any particular situation successfully or, colloquially speaking, to take care of business. Life is full of tasks and challenges, and hopefully, also full of goals. As stress levels go down, the sense of self-efficacy goes up. Cherry writes:

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

— View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
— Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
— Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
— Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

As Bandura and other researchers have demonstrated, self-efficacy can have an impact on everything from psychological states to behavior to motivation.

Where does self-efficacy come from?

There is a bit of a paradox here, because even though a certain amount of self-efficacy is required to meet challenges and master them, “mastery experiences” also generate more of a sense of self-efficacy. Social modeling is important too — having the opportunity to associate with and observe and emulate people who have already reached greater heights of self-efficacy.

They will probably be the same friends and associates who supply the third element, social persuasion. Cherry says:

Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand.

And, of course, psychological responses count for a lot. The more we are able to manage our stress levels, moods, and emotional states, the better we will succeed in any given situation. It is easy to see why Dr. Puhl grants so much importance to the concept of self-efficacy. In many cases, the attempt to achieve a healthy body weight is the biggest challenge an individual encounters.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What Is Self-Efficacy?,” Psychology
Image by Wouter Verhelst.

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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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