What the STRONG Kids Project Learned

baby 7 up

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at earlier work done by the STRONG Kids Project in its attempt to identify the main causes of childhood obesity. This research program is hosted by the University of Illinois, and its name is short for Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group. Funding comes from the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The STRONG Kids Project found a large number of contributing factors, which appear to work together in a synergistic way, similar to what Dr. Pretlow has called the Childhood Obesity Perfect Storm. The next step was to identify the most significant risk factors, concentrating on preschool children. They started out with 22 variables and narrowed the field to three major ones, without discounting the influence of the other 19. For this age group, the chief predictors of childhood obesity are said to be:

— inadequate sleep
— a parental BMI that classifies the mom or dad as overweight or obese
— parental restriction of a child’s eating in order to control his weight

We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime.

That quotation is from Dr. Brent McBride, who teaches human development and directs the university’s Child Development Laboratory. The facility is involved in a longitudinal study that intends to continue following the same group of children. The first batch of information was collected from 2-year-olds. From it flowed a number of recommendations for parents, beginning with awareness on their part that their food preferences and eating habits are the models upon which small children base their own preferences and habits.

What now?

What should parents do? Develop better habits, or at least keep their bad habits out of sight so children won’t be inspired to imitate them. If a parent can’t give up potato chips, the next best thing might be to keep the chips on a high shelf and only break them out after the baby is asleep. Parents are also advised to demonstrate healthful behavior on a day-to-day basis. If Mom and Dad spend a lot of time watching TV or playing computer games, a child will naturally form the impression that this is what human beings are supposed to do, and model herself or himself after the adults in the environment.

Restricting certain foods creates a “forbidden fruit” aura around them. Rather than having food in the house that the kids are not supposed to eat, or are not supposed to eat very much of, it’s so much better to make only wholesome foods available. Then there is no conflict.

Another recommendation is to let a preschool child decide the serving size, instead of arbitrarily dishing it out, so the child can learn self-regulation. One very big mistake made by parents is using food as a compensatory treat to soothe a child’s skinned knee or bruised feelings. And there may still be doctors who hand out lollipops after giving shots, but hopefully not because it sets a very bad precedent. Cultivating the tradition of using food for comfort is an excellent way to start a child on the road to food addiction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Illinois study identifies three risk factors most highly correlated with child obesity,” Illinois.edu, 01/14/14
Image: Baby 7-up

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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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