Everything That You Know Is Wrong About Losing Weight


In February, with the obesity epidemic still stubbornly present throughout the world, Weight Watchers in the United Kingdom offered a free summer program to teens from 13 to 17. Given the current climate of panic over the nightmare vision of an empire toppling due to the cost of diabetes treatment and other sequelae of obesity, this sounds like a public-spirited and civic-minded thing to do.

The outlines of the plan seem reasonable. To join, the child has to be accompanied by a legally responsible adult. Their doctor is supposed to set the target weight, and do a check up every six to nine months to reassure everybody that the weight loss isn’t getting out of hand. And here is the main clause: “The child must also be at or above the 95th percentile for their age and gender.” At that point on the obesity spectrum, a child is in serious need of help. How much harm could Weight Watchers do?

But no. Britain’s professional dieticians’ association is against the idea because it sends a negative message, and could cause the youth to become unhealthily fixated with dieting.

In the nearby Republic of Ireland, the Health Service Executive is the country’s largest employer and receives the most money of any public sector organization. It came up with a plan for 7-year-olds which the Irish Examiner‘s Catherine Shanahan describes as “designed to empower parents to tackle their child’s increasing weight.”

It apparently consists of six monthly conferences with a dietician. The pilot program started with 95 participants — the great majority (86) obese and 9 merely overweight. Shanahan writes:

Just 51 made an appointment with the service. Of those, only 37 actually showed up. At the end of the six months, just 18 had stayed the course.

This sadly relates to several topics familiar to Childhood Obesity News readers, such as patient compliance, and the fact that many people feel they have sufficient nutrition information.

According to an article in the Irish Medical Journal, the failure was partly the parents’ fault for telling the medical personnel that their children were chubby, fat, or heavy. Also, parents tend to feel defensive when somebody else tells them their children are obese, which makes them not want to become involved in the first place. Another suggestion is that parents suffer from blindness to the serious threats posed by obesity.

The reporter also mentions that there can be difficulty in “getting buy-in from the entire household,” which is a polite way of saying that parents are not always in harmonious agreement about which life circumstances negatively affect the kids, or how, or what should be done about it.

Unfortunately, a toxic percentage of parents use the children as weapons in complicated and bitter struggles between themselves. In many families, a child is the identified patient, but the whole family is sick.

These are all psychological issues, a coincidence which underscores Dr. Pretlow’s conviction that more mental health professionals need to get involved in curtailing obesity. (This program, incidentally, involved cognitive behavioral therapy techniques “to enhance parental motivation to introduce positive lifestyle changes.”)

Here is the rest of Shanahan’s disheartening summation:

Families who took part were encouraged to monitor dietary intake, screen time, and exercise. The dieticians running the programme had formal training and it was underpinned by evidence-based best practice. Yet, at the end of six months, for those who did stay the course […] couldn’t say the weight loss in children was “clinically significant”.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Weight Watchers free offer to teenagers could lead to them becoming ‘fixated’ with dieting,” Telegraph.co.uk, 02/15/18
Source: “Parents shun free scheme to tackle child obesity,” IrishExaminer.com, 02/16/18
Photo credit: Counselman Collection on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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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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