Movement, Exertion, and Other Medicines

Okay, so it’s no longer officially Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, out there in the 50 states. But here, it always is! So let’s just carry on with the enormous number of ideas for parents we have collected.

But first, it might be helpful to return to one of the basic principles, an important one to grasp. When any particular motion-promoting activity is suggested, no one makes direct claims that, for instance, borrowing a dance video from the library will cause your child to lose five pounds this week.

Patience is very useful, along with an understanding that sometimes things happen indirectly, and even inexplicably. To illustrate this, we consult a list that circulates among personal trainers and other fitness-oriented professionals. It’s called “50 Great Reasons to Exercise,” and just for fun, let’s pick a reason at random and apply imagination.

#46, helps with self-control

Imagine that your child, Janey, to earn a badge or get a recommendation letter or whatever, needs to put in some volunteer time. She goes to meet with the person who would be her supervisor, but that person is late. Here, reality branches off in two possible directions.

1. Janey, who lives a very sedentary life, only wants to get back to her online gaming tournament. After 10 impatient minutes she rationalizes, “You know what? Never mind that recommendation letter. I don’t want to go to college anyway.” On the way home she stops to pick up a dozen doughnuts, fills out an employment application, works at the doughnut shop for the rest of her life, and dies at age 40 weighing 400 pounds.

2. Janey, who goes for a run every morning, feels pretty good about herself and the world. She sticks around to wait for 15 minutes, meets the supervisor, accumulates a stellar record as a volunteer, is accepted to the college of her choice, shines in a career that is rewarding in every possible sense, enjoys a physically active life, and always keeps a perfect size 12 figure.

Perhaps nobody on earth could prove the chain of causation between Janey’s morning runs and the self-control that gave her the calmness and the grace to wait for that five minutes that changed her life. But we do know one thing. Self-control is better than no self-control, and if science shows that exercise helps with self-control, we are for it.

How to encourage kids to move more

Kids seem particularly amenable to exercise when it’s something they consider fun, and when they do it with other kids. The togetherness factor is definitely influential, but unfortunately that coin has two sides. Check this out:

Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville studied 81 racially-diverse public school students, ages five to 12, who went to after-school programs at one of two different sites… When kids made new friends who were more or less active, they tended to change their own activity level accordingly… “Some kids’ activity levels got pulled up by their immediate friends, and others got pulled down,” Gesell told Reuters Health.

That would be pediatrics researcher Sabina Gesell, who concluded that the challenge now is to “leverage” the effect when it leads sluggish children to become more active, but also to block its tendency to work in the other direction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Friend groups may encourage kids to be more active,”, 05/27/12
“50 Great Reasons To Exercise,”, 2015
Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys on 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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