Enabling, Activism, and Child Obesity

USAG- Humphreys

Last time, Childhood Obesity News explored the idea of passive enabling, which can mean many things, such as letting obesogenic conditions continue without interference. Parents are called upon to be agents of change, but if they are not even aware of an encroaching problem, how can they feel motivated to take action? Awareness is crucial, which is why the impending end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is meaningless. Yes, meaningless, because every month should be equally jam-packed with awareness.

Speaking of constructive parent participation, here is one example. Many children belong to sports teams, mainly soccer, and the idea that parents should take turns providing high-calorie post-practice treats is widely accepted. We mentioned the distress expressed by pediatric nutritionist Melanie R. Silverman when she hears from clients and readers who are unhappy with this ritual. She writes:

By far the most disheartening stories I hear are from those parents trying desperately to encourage their overweight or obese child to become more active. Soccer is a terrific sport for many of these kids. The pace is fast and fun and the calorie burn can be significant. But the calories burned are rendered irrelevant by the post-game snack.

According to Silverman and anyone else with a grain of sense, what generous coaches and parents ought to provide instead are food items from a very short list: “bananas, grapes, watermelon, kiwi, oranges, apples or other fresh fruit.” And water, plain water. Period. In the past, parents could blithely feed high-calorie treats to other people’s kids, but those days are over, or should be.

In a way it is sad, and some people can’t help looking back with nostalgia on the old-fashioned custom of freely dispensing cookies. Similarly, some people gaze fondly backward to the days when there were opium dens, but the nostalgia vote can’t carry that notion very far. Eventually, an equally rational attitude toward gratuitous sugar-bombs will prevail. Parents whose children currently participate in sports can be the bold proponents of a better idea.

Silverman is careful to note that she allows sweet treats for her own children on special occasions like birthdays, or when she bakes them herself at home. But that is a private decision. In the public arena, things need to be different:

Soccer leagues must take the initiative to set snack rules at the beginning of the season and enforce them with coaches and parents. An approved snack list should be provided to all parents that shows what they can bring to the field; make the list.

Clinical nutritionist Loretta Lanphier wrote a piece that is very much on point, titled “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?” in which she recommends thinking of future generations and how they will benefit from “creating a family legacy of wellness.” She casts the usual aspersions on such societal drawbacks as the existence of fast food chains and ubiquitous advertising. A particular ominous sentence is, “Some professional sports franchises have admitted that it is difficult for them to turn a profit without robust sales of food and beverages during games.” Lanphier makes a positive declaration and then asks an all-important question:

What happens in the home and the family is the strongest influence upon our children’s nutritional choices. Are you an enabler for the health of your kids, or do you model and teach a lifestyle which results in obesity?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soccer Snack Insanity,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/06/2013
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?” oasisadvancedwellness.com, 06/01/10
Image by USAG-Humphreys

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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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