Must Addiction Always Win Over Motivation?

The question of how to motivate kids to desire a healthy weight is an ever-puzzling challenge. Despite research showing that an obese child’s “Quality of Life” score is about the same as that of a young cancer patient, the roadblocks seem innumerable.

For example, it might be that a young person has plenty of motivation. It’s just that the motivation is already fully engaged in taking her or him down an unfortunate path. It may be that kids are not motivated to lose weight because they are in thrall to addiction just as much as a meth head or a heroin junkie.

The condition of being hooked provides motivation toward only one end, which is obtaining more of the addictor. This very unhealthy drive might lead a kid to sneakily obtain and hide the substance, steal it, steal money to buy it, etc., as confessed by Michael Prager in his book Fat Boy Thin Man.

The consequences were bad enough in the old days, but look what can happen in the current societal climate. In Chicago, a security guard in a primary school took it upon himself to display a bit too much of the spirit of overachievement. Sarah K. Burris reported:

One child’s love for candy led to her being put under the school’s stairs wearing handcuffs. Six-year-old Madisyn Moore, a student at Fernwood Elementary, took candy off of her teacher’s desk last week and the security guard decided to teach her a lesson. It was nearly an hour later before the girl’s mom was able to rescue her.

Others might wonder why the teacher left such a temptation out in the open, or what part the teacher played in allowing the child to be taken out in restraints and stuffed into a confined space. The point is, addiction trumps any other motive and eradicates every other value. Addiction wins every time. Or does it?

From the study of communications from thousands of young people, Dr. Pretlow has noticed that tolerance develops to highly pleasurable foods, and these foods act exactly like drugs of abuse. In “Perspective: Why Do Kids Overeat?” which first appeared in Clinical Endocrinology News and then was republished elsewhere, he wrote:

The way these youth describe their relationship with food comes close to satisfying all of the DSM-IV substance dependence criteria… Morbidly obese kids are likely in addictive tolerance mode and eat more or worse foods to obtain the same coping effect.

By the DSM definition, addiction interferes with life by making other values and rewards irrelevant. The lack of alternate motivation is part of the very definition of addiction. Is everything else meaningless because all motivation is focused around one goal? Or is all motivation focused on one goal — getting more of that stuff — because everything else is empty? What motivates someone to deal with addiction? That’s the real question.

In the presentation “What’s Really Causing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic? What Kids Say,” in slides 99 through 101 Dr. Pretlow contemplates answers for the question, “Where do we go from here?” One possibility is to redesign weight loss programs to be more like substance abuse dependence programs — which is, of course, exactly what the W8Loss2Go smartphone app does.

Camps and residential weight-loss centers have an advantage, because the withdrawal period from problem foods (addictors) can be enforced, and the food that is provided can be controlled. However, the proportion of obese kids who can afford to sign in to such places is miniscule. E-Health International sets out to prove that the same results can be obtained by people acting autonomously, with the help of W8Loss2Go.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Crying 6-year-old put in handcuffs under school’s stairs for taking candy off teacher’s desk,”, 03/20/16
Source: “Perspective: Why Do Kids Overeat?,”, 07/09/10
Image by Jeff Djevdet

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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.

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