Awareness Month — a Good Time for Change


Childhood Obesity News has been looking at long-term effects of bad parenting decisions. In the early 2000s, several important studies delved into the mysteries of eating behavior. They explored such topics as obsessive-compulsive personality traits, sugar addiction, brain dysregulation, neuroadaptations, aversive food stimuli, and altered reward processing, all in relation to eating disorders.

When the idea of rewarding exemplary behavior around food is extended to adults, sharp criticism can result. A couple of years back, a high ranking official in Britain’s National Health Service suggested the companies should bribe their employees to lose weight, and should be given government funding to do it.

Columnist Carole Malone’s scornful opinion was that people would gain weight on purpose in order to collect the pay bonus, or whatever other enticement was on offer. She wrote:

Many fat people are fat precisely because they’ve been bribed before. With food. By their parents — to shut them up, to make them feel loved or because they were being a nuisance.

Childhood obesity is a parenting problem, NOT a health problem. Kids who are fat are made fat by parents who are lazy, stupid or trying to buy their children’s affection with food… Rewarding people for stuffing their faces is not the way to go.

Malone is kind of hard on parents, and it is not our intention, during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, to load parents with more guilt and shame. Instead, we have collected a few suggestions.

For instance, Reddit correspondent “Uncle_Erik,” who brought his weight down from 300 lbs to 170, gives this advice:

If you don’t have a pet, think about it… cats and dogs are really affectionate. They give you something to look forward to and something to look after. If you got a dog, you could take it out a couple of times a day. A good excuse to get outside and exercise, plus the dog will love it.

Dr. Claire McCarthy suggests family walks, with or without a dog, as a way of setting a good example for kids, and also reminds parents who use the services of a child care center, to choose one that offers lots of physical activity. Registered dietitian Maryann Jacobsen reinforces the point that so many other advisors and counselors repeatedly make: The best way to influence children is by consistently demonstrating the behavior you want to see them adopt.

In describing how to raise the expectation bar, she writes:

Model the behavior you want for your child in terms of eating, let them know you believe in them 100% and then keep giving them plenty of opportunities to do it in a supportive environment. The moral of the story is children will rise or fall to our expectations of them. When it comes to eating, let’s aim high.

The same idea is heard again from writer Maria Trimarchi:

Instead of making food a battleground at mealtimes, offer healthy food choices, let kids decide when they are hungry and full, and maybe most importantly, model your own healthy relationship with food and exercise.

Jacobson explains why it is such a poor idea to praise a child for cleaning her or his plate. It is basically saying, “Congratulations for finishing all that even if you weren’t really hungry and didn’t need it.”

Another bad idea is to offer a sweet treat as a reward — even for eating those repulsive vegetables. When the delivery or withholding of food is used as either a promise or a threat, the child begins to assume that normal, non-disruptive behavior should always earn a treat. Jacobson says, “Let them know ahead of time the consequence that will happen if they misbehave — and leave food out of it.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Reward,”, undated
Source: “Bribing obese people to lose weight will do a fat lot of good,”, 10/25/14
Source: “FatPeopleStories,”, 2014
Source: “The four habits that can keep your child at a healthy weight,”, 08/23/12
Source: “The Feeding Strategy Every Parent Needs in Their Toolbox,”, 12/07/12
Source: “Big Kids: 10 Things Parents Can Do to Fight Childhood Obesity,”, undated
Source: “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child About Food,”, 09/07/12
Photo credit: Charm2010 via Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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