Good Intentions, Bad Tactics

Special note: Halloween is coming on fast, and if you’re a grownup who deals with kids at this very special time of the year you might want to consult the extensive compendium of Halloween change techniques that Childhood Obesity News has amassed over the years. Those recommended change techniques do not include using food as reward or bribe.

Bribery and behavior control

Sure, a study we’re referencing took place a few years back, but it’s a safe bet that parental strategies have not changed much. We seem to exist in a climate of appeasement that leads around two-thirds of parents to use junk food as a reward for good behavior. A U.K. website that collates discount offers for the convenience of frugal consumers surveyed 1,200 parents about sugary treats, takeaways (aka fast food), and fizzy beverages.

Sadly, they found that 67% of parents were prone to using such products as rewards for good behavior — which, in practical terms, is the moral equivalent of issuing a bribe to prevent bad behavior, only couched in more delicate language. Adding insult to injury, only 7% reported that they bestowed fruit as a good-behavior reward.

It gets worse

Half the parents admitted to outright bribery, dangling before their vulnerable young children the promise of processed, sugar-laden pseudo-foods. Why, the survey asked, do parents feel compelled to offer bribes? Well, 36% said it encourages the kids to continue to behave, and 29% of the parents said it’s cheaper than buying a gift.

Two questions immediately spring to mind. First, what the heck is going on that makes parents feel obliged to reward good behavior with any kind of gift? Is the science of child-rearing in such disarray that good behavior can no longer be regarded as the normal, expected, default situation?

Second… cheap? This is clearly an example of false economy, because when children develop type 2 diabetes, treatment and medication can wreck the budget.

Now, indulge in a thought experiment and take this bribe/reward scheme to its logical conclusion. The absurd yet totally possible outcome is a 400-pound child who stays out of trouble because she or he has no friends, and is in fact unlikely to get into trouble, because she or he is incapable of moving more than a few feet, unless perhaps to roll to a Halloween party costumed as a jack-o-lantern… A very well-behaved child indeed.

Okay snacks

In “7 Healthy Foods That Will Fill You Up and Prevent Overeating” the pseudonymous Krizia describes the “fill-up foods” as enumerated by Dr. David A. Kessler, author of “The End of Overeating.” Please consult the article for the expanded explanation, but here in a nutshell are the filling foods: bananas, eggs, avocados, oatmeal, nuts, and apples. And, speaking of nuts, one of them is almonds and another is peanut butter.

As any Childhood Obesity News reader knows, we are fans of old sayings around here. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” has stood the test of time because fiber is one of humankind’s strongest allies in the struggle to resist obesity.

“Focus on health, not weight” is very important precept, and it ties into the whole baby-steps philosophy. At every decision point, parents can ask themselves, “Is this a health thing, or a weight thing?” — and maybe gain some perspective that provides a forward-looking answer — and then act accordingly.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Two-Thirds Of Parents ‘Reward’ Children With Junk Food,”, 04/24/12
Source: “7 Healthy Foods That Will Fill You Up and Prevent Overeating,”, 11/13/09
Image source: Visualhunt

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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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