Childhood Obesity, Motivation, and the Mind

Alice Girl Face Sad

Recently Childhood Obesity News talked about obesity’s ghost — the tendency of former fat kids to be haunted by the specter of their younger selves. They sometimes suffer from insecurity and heightened anxiety, and even from weird fears like going to sleep normal sized and waking up weighing twice as much. Media personality Alison Rosen talks freely about her lingering insecurity and told her podcast audience:

I don’t feel like ‘that was then and this is now,’ even though I’m intellectually aware that is the case. I’m aware that I haven’t been that person for ten years.

But as always, and as Blaise Pascal famously said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” The dangers of childhood obesity are not just to physical health but to mental health as well. The long-range effects are bad enough even when a previously overweight child achieves normal weight. Not surprisingly, remaining overweight can be much worse, in terms of wear-and-tear on the psyche.

Britain’s National Obesity Observatory has observed this:

The impact of obesity on mental well-being in children appears to increase as they get older. In younger children, weight may have little impact on perceived or actual friendship status.

But once that age of innocence has passed, extra pounds count for plenty in the social realms of school, outside activities, and even in the midst of a child’s own family. The dynamics of relationships are so complicated that the same household can contain opposing forces that work against one another and stymie progress. For instance, parents who give their kids a hard time about their weight can be surprisingly obstructive when possible solutions are presented.

Even understanding and supportive parents, who silently wish and hope for improvement, sometimes have difficulty switching gears when the actual prospect of change appears on the horizon. This is something Dr. Pretlow noticed when testing the W8Loss2Go smartphone application:

Many parents of youth in our study became outraged when we asked them to help weigh foods of their sons or daughters and reduce the amounts. They seemed threatened by realization that they must also change their food intake.

Hopefully, parents learn that nagging, bullying, shaming, blaming, and other kinds of coercively imposed “motivation” are counterproductive. And of course it should go without saying that parents should never use sweets or fast food as an enticement or reward. It may be convenient, in the moment, to stop a tantrum or soothe a booster shot by giving a child some exceptional treat. In the long term, the price becomes very high.

But what about the other kind of bribery, the financial kind? Yes, well-intentioned parents, feeling desperate and at a loss for a better solution, have tried paying their kids to lose weight. The subject of monetary rewards is worth looking into, which Childhood Obesity News will do quite soon.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ARIYNBF with Adam Ray,”, Dec 2013
Source: “Obesity and Mental Health,”, March 2011
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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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