More on Morbid Obesity in Kids

The photographer titled this “Talk about junk in the trunk!”

Food addiction has been discussed here many times. Like other popular expressions, it is an incomplete shorthand term for something that takes more than a few syllables to say.

The addiction to overeating is more of a behavioral addiction than a substance addiction. Even that simplification has to be qualified, by admitting that quite a few foods and pseudo-foods do cause the same reactions as hard drugs.

Among many similar studies, the extensive European project NeuroFAST found that people diagnosed as morbidly obese “show changes in their dopamine systems which are similar to the changes in a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.”

In the course of creating Weigh2Rock and developing W8Loss2Go, Dr. Pretlow became familiar with the health journeys of thousands of children and teens. He observes:

Dependence on the pleasure of food may be on a continuum: overweight children may be only partially dependent (addicted); obese children may be fully dependent (addicted); and morbidly obese children may be in addictive tolerance mode.

This is explained further in Dr. Pretlow’s book Overweight: What Kids Say:
Overweight: What Kids Say:

Chapter 9 describes “tolerance,” which is a characteristic of addictive behaviors, where an individual must use more and more of a substance or behavior, or worse substances, to obtain the same pleasurable effect. If the childhood obesity epidemic is due in part to an addiction to highly pleasurable foods, then tolerance might be a factor that is worsening the epidemic and contributing to development of severe or “morbid” obesity in some kids.

If overweight kids need progressively larger amounts of pleasurable food or higher pleasure-level foods to feel satisfied or comforted, this would certainly worsen the childhood obesity epidemic and contribute to morbid obesity.

Morbid obesity is skyrocketing because cheap, high pleasure, high calorie food is becoming even more widely available, in the face of ever increasing tolerance. Furthermore, the stress of morbid obesity continually stokes the vicious cycle of spiraling comfort eating.

Last time, we spoke of how some individuals who suffer from morbid obesity may, either knowingly or unconsciously, derive some type of reward from their condition. No doubt in many cases it is the same reward that all addicts partake of. To be hooked on anything is to inhabit a life where all complications are removed and all answers are simple, because all decisions boil down to one question: Will this action get me more of my addictor?

If an eating addiction leads to morbid obesity, the trouble is doubled. Consider this: Many substance-addicted people are able to maintain a normal appearance. Their addiction disease is not readily discernible, but the person addicted to overeating can’t fool anybody.

Psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini has learned the importance of helping a morbidly obese person identify what benefits they might be reaping from morbid obesity. What does the extra weight allow the person to protect or avoid? When the “condishun” fills a need, therapy can help to reduce that need or find another way to satisfy it.

When a person no longer benefits from old behaviors, Rapini says, those behaviors can be left behind. She adds:

It is also important to look at obese children’s homes especially if there is a substantial weight gain. Many times, something is going on at home that is causing this child to medicate their anxiety with food.

Dr. Pretlow is concerned by the number of children who are homeschooled so they can avoid the embarrassments and threats posed by public school. It is possible that their isolation and lack of socialization opportunities combine to encourage even more “comfort eating,” which in turn leads to more obesity. Dr. Pretlow writes:

We once had a weekly parents chat on our website hosted by a nurse. Mostly it was attended by parents, who were desperate for help, in regard to their morbidly obese homeschooled kids. Typically, they were single parents with no recourse.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food addiction: know the facts,”, 01/05/2013 10:15
Source: “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,”, 06/21/11
Source: “What is Being Morbidly Obese Protecting You From?,”, 09/27/11
Photo credit: kennethkonica via VisualHunt/CC BY-ND

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

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.

Food & Health Resources