Childhood Obesity Awareness Month — Slippery Slope?

Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, who holds the title of Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, works on “the complex problem of childhood obesity and related mental disorders.”

The brain, he says, has a “get more” drive, which is reinforced and rewarded by habitual over-consumption. Among the things this primal acquisitive instinct insists on getting more of are processed high-calorie (what Dr. Pretlow terms “hyperpalatable”) food, hyper-reality media and electronics, and too darn much sitting. We will be talking more about the particulars, but in general Dr. Kaliebe has a rule:

Don’t stress over the occasional special treat, but be strict about everyday routines.

Say, you’re a parent, with one or more children, and it’s up to you to raise them responsibly. Every day, you make dozens of small decisions, and although each one might seem trifling, actually none are inconsequential. Whether we like it or not, every micro-decision is a baby step in some direction, toward some destination. Everything counts. Unless parenting principles are cruel or illegal, it’s good to stick with them.

For instance, when the kids whine or pester, a parent might hear an inner voice that says, “Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud. Rules were made to be broken. It will do no harm to loosen the standard and make an exception this one, single time.”

As it turns out, “just this once” is an unreliable life motto. It should not be applied, for example, to jumping off a bridge. To do that even once is probably not a good idea. In everyday transactions, the consequences might not be as severe, but “just this once” is a phrase you don’t want to hear yourself saying a whole lot.

Two sides of a coin

Many people invoke the verbal formula “slippery slope” to argue against innovations they don’t like. Their premise is that, after one exception is made, events will inevitably go to an extreme place. Momentum will take over, and everything will careen madly downward as if on a luge track where the athlete dies at the end. But rarely is this the case.

It’s not that bad, okay? Each and every parental lapse might not be the end of the world. But do a momentary thought experiment and try looking at it like this. If a person is okay with the idea that “just this once” won’t hurt, it seems like they must be okay with the converse — that maintaining a standard, this time or any other time, will not do any good. And if you believe that, than why are you even reading this?

In other words, to assert that letting the rule relax once doesn’t matter is a lot like saying that holding up the rule once doesn’t matter either. But it does. Convincing yourself otherwise is the worst kind of fatlogic.

And remember, children can be diabolical lawyers. Unless both parties have the time and temperament for a lengthy philosophical discussion, “You let us do it last time” is an unassailable argument in kidlogic. This is why small steps are so important, and saying no this one time is a step. Plus, then it becomes easier to say no the next time.

On a meta level, consistency is security. A kid might be delighted to get away with candy for breakfast “just this once,” but in some subconscious nook of the psyche, insecurity has been introduced. A hurricane might be approaching, the electricity might have gone out, and horrible Aunt Rosie might be visiting, but if Dad still says “No candy for breakfast,” the world is solidly on its axis.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Rules of thumb: Three simple ideas for overcoming childhood obesity,”, 05/01/14
Photo credit: jqpubliq 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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