More on Obesity and Financial Motivation

Love and trust

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News considered the responses gleaned by CNN reporter Todd Benjamin from an article about the concept of bribing children to lose weight. Benjamin heard back from former kids who had been paid for good grades and former kids who had not; and parents who had paid their kids for grades, and parents who had not. Only a couple of personal experiences were connected with obesity, though the underlying principles, whether they embrace or reject bribery, are pretty much the same. One respondent wrote:

i was an overweight kid.. (not too long ago) and i was advised to lose weight, and i managed to lose it without any financial incentive at all. my parents strictly controlled my diet.

A person who signed in as “nomi” had strong feelings:

As someone who works with people who suffer from eating disorders, I cannot ignore that bribing children with money to lose weight is blatantly planting the seed for an eating disorder…. The reward for weight loss must be related to the weight loss!… The outward reward will be experienced as their peers will most probably begin to treat them with more respect as they begin to respect themselves.

A teenager from Europe, where they weigh in kilograms and pay in euros, wrote, “if i lose 1kg and get five euros, i would go buy chocolate to gain back my 1kg so therefore my weight would always be the same.”

One reader felt that bribery is okay if it will keep the child from dying young, while another cynically replied that the world is overpopulated anyway. A wary adult cautioned that a normal-weight kid might be entrepreneurially inspired to pile on fat in order to be paid for losing it. Another grownup, possibly an experienced parent, asked sensible questions and foresaw other ways to play the angles:

How long do you think the weight will stay off? Will they have to pay it back if they gain it back?… How much will you pay me to study? To take a shower? To wash dishes? To go to college? Etc.

In a more general sense, other readers felt that the bribe/reward is a manipulative ploy used only by parents who fail. If considered at all, it should be a tactic of last resort. Getting into deep psychology, what a child wants more than anything else is parental attention. Very young children are transparent about the fact that face time with Mom or Dad is the best reward. It’s all about “Look at me!” As kids get older, they hide their vulnerable longing for parental attention, and as teenagers they even hide it from themselves.

All kids crave parental attention, and a little goes a long way if it’s the good kind. If they can’t get the good kind, kids are notorious for courting negative attention, operating from a subconsciously held principle that even punishment is better than being ignored. This unfortunate human tendency leads to some hideous family dynamics of a kind that social workers and health care professionals dread.

If obesity is the only thing about a kid that ever catches the parents’ attention, the road ahead does not look smooth. If incipient obesity is approached with bribes or rewards, some of Benjamin’s readers felt that the problems likely to come up later in life were not worth the cost. They didn’t want their kids tying their self-worth to monetary gain, or winding up in therapy to deal with a swollen sense of entitlement. A reader who signed in as “lrc” touched on the importance of developing personal integrity:

Bribing kids turns them into brats with no appreciation for the subtler (yet ultimately more gratifying) rewards that come from taking care of your body, being kind to others, or striving for your personal best. So what’s more important? The immediate goals of making your child do what you want them to, or teaching them to have integrity and decency throughout their life?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Economics 101: Bribe your kids?,” blogs.cnn, 06/03/08
Image by Mike Baird

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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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