Childhood Obesity and the Roots of Motivation

Brush Prairie

How many country singers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Two. One to change the bulb, and one to sing about how good the old one was.

Okay, how about this version?

How many obese children does it take to change a lightbulb?
Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

Sure, it’s a hacky old joke, but it points to the universal human truth that in the evolution of an individual, very little happens without motivation. Like the mythological lightbulb, an overweight or obese kid has to really want to change. Motivation comes from within, and it can’t be forced upon another person. Adults can hope for the opportunity to provide the means to facilitate and aid change, and they can strive to create a healthy ambiance where change can take place., which has somehow become a serious website, recently published a piece unsuitable for children (because of language) but relevant to the topic of motivation. Frustrated with the way life is going, a person will reach a place where she or he will say “No more of this!” and make a declaration of intent to change.

It doesn’t matter what the situation is… without that decision to improve it, you’re going to stay exactly where you are, or worse.

But declaring isn’t enough. The breaking point isn’t real, says author John Cheese, until it’s combined with action. Or non-action, like not eating potato chips, for instance. “If ending addiction just required willpower and a decision to quit, nobody would have problems ever again,” he says. Yet problems persist, and one of them is, we soon realize that the results of real change take some time to show up, and we get impatient. For kids it’s even worse, because in youth, a week seems like a year.

Children, it must unfortunately be acknowledged, operate under a lot of constraints that don’t apply to adults. Media personality and former fat kid Alison Rosen recalled her preschool days, when the class parents would rotate and bring in snacks for “nutrition,” and any child who finished her or his share completely would be in the “clean plate club.” At least grownups don’t have to put up with that.

Now, what about the question that Dr. Pretlow has asked about the low quality-of-life rating chalked up by the obese youth studied by research professionals:

If obese young people are truly miserable, due to being obese, why don’t they simply eat healthy, exercise, lose weight, and not be miserable any more?

A main obstacle seems to be that people really, really don’t want to change, and that applies across the board — young, old, male, female, you name it. We all think we’re pretty darn special, even if miserable, and we cherish this false sense of integrity that is only an excuse to hang onto our bad habits. Cheese writes:

‘Staying true to yourself’ does not mean ‘never changing anything about yourself.’ It means allowing your mind to grow and improve, like it was designed to do…. If ‘being yourself’ ever comes with a cost, such as living in poverty or fear or misery, it’s time to re-examine and redefine what actually makes you who you are.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “5 Things That Have to Happen Before You Fix Your Crappy Life,”, 01/09/14
Source: “Wintry mix,”, 12/05/19
Image by Hello Chaos


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

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.

Food & Health Resources