Are Obese Kids Miserable? Yes.


In previous posts, Childhood Obesity News has mentioned many of the physical and emotional consequences of obesity in the lives of children. When young people apply to participate in one of Dr. Pretlow’s W8Loss2Go studies, they fill out questionnaires.

One question is, “How much does being overweight bother you?” With 1 as the lowest score and 10 as the highest, most of the respondents check 10, indicating that the amount of distress constitutes an important problem.

Yet, once the study period is underway, in face-to-face or phone interviews, the subjects become strangely reticent, and claim that everything is going fine or (this happened twice) burst into tears and hang up. It is easy to see why kids don’t want to talk about this stuff because, really, who does?

A person of any age is embarrassed to be unable to fit into a restaurant booth, and the post-op patients who frequent are not shy about discussing the other problems they remember or, very possibly, are still dealing with. Sometimes the best we can hope for is that grownups will reveal some fat-kid secrets from their own pasts.

A woman wrote to the discussion forum about how, as an obese teen, she used to develop rashes in her skin folds. Dr. Pretlow says:

In a recent talk by Dr. Grace O’Malley […] she noted that markedly obese youth have a nightmarish fear of falling down in front of their peers (e.g. at school) and not being able to get up, like a turtle on his back, with devastating humiliation.

Acid reflux is increasing along with childhood obesity, but the two are not always both present. It can make eating so difficult that a teenager might actually lose weight.

The manifestations are pretty gross. The Daily Mail quotes these words of pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Mike Thomson:

Often adults with acid reflux realize they had it during childhood without knowing what it was. And even GPs don’t always recognize that children and young people can suffer acid reflux, delaying their treatment. Often the symptoms can be vague. But acid reflux should be considered by GPs if children experience pain when eating or when they wake up.

Treatment is available, in the form of an implant called a Linx band. Of course, it is much preferable to not have acid reflux in first place, but many obese kids and teens do.

In an newspaper opinion piece, two doctors wrote of obese children who had been teased and bullied by their own families, making them feel as if there was nowhere to turn:

This has significant consequences: Overweight children have higher rates of depression, stronger feelings of worthlessness and inferiority, and even higher rates of suicide. This consequence is not new, despite the fact that we seem to largely ignore it; as early as the 1940s obesity was described as a “psychological handicap” because of the social stigma associated with it, something that has only continued to get worse.

Childhood Obesity News has mentioned the sad life and death of a young man who grew up piteously obese, apparently with the full cooperation of an enabling mother. His dearest wish, to have a wife and children, was never fulfilled.

He told reporters who worked on his video biography, “I learned at an early age that it was better for me to keep to myself.” Why? Quite possibly, because the mother’s jealousy was too high a price to pay. It looked like a classic case of emotional incest, with an exotic folie a deux delusion thrown in for good measure, allowing both of them to pretend it was normal for the son to weigh 600 pounds.

Eventually he became unable to leave home at all, which may have been exactly what the mother, consciously or subconsciously, wanted all along. His last words were, “Mama, I can’t breathe…” How appropriate for someone who seems to have been assisted to his grave by smother-love.

His mother told the press, “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him…” It is a banal sentiment, voiced by many bereaved people, yet in this case of extreme and fatal codependence, uncomfortably on the nose.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Anyone want to be fat again?,”, 08/18/14
Source: “Children suffer acid reflux too — and it can cause years of misery,”, 02/09/15
Source: “Op-Ed: Once a Fat Kid, Always a Fat Kid,”, 03/27/13
Source: “A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity,”, 12/27/14
Photo credit: Paul De Los Reyes (Noize Photography) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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