More Rubber Meets the Road

How do theory and empirical experience mingle, when it comes to the application of successful methods to different but similar problems? Of course it is also important to try unsuccessful methods on other problems, too, because there they might succeed.

It becomes increasingly apparent how multifactorial the whole cluster of problems still remains. One size does not fit all, and so on. Here are some interesting points.

“Public Health Menaces — Smoking and Overeating”

Advertising influences people toward being comfortable with, and even smug about, their harmful habits. Pathologically dependent people often view these habits as the very building blocks of their identity. Alcohol and hard drug addictions tend to be more substance-oriented. When it comes to smoking, and especially to obesogenic compulsive overeating, there is much more interplay between physical addiction and behavioral addiction.

An eminent judge Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

Habit is a confession of failure in the highest function of being, which involves a perpetual self-determination, in full view of all existing circumstances. But habit, you see, is an action in present circumstances from past motives.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seems to work very well for people with all kinds of dependencies. What did Holmes and CBT think about each other?

Just to pick up on another word mentioned in that summary, Dr. Pretlow says,

Ideally, all food advertising directed at children should be banned. Food advertising directed at children is, in truth, enticement rather than advertising. Only highly pleasurable foods are advertised, which may get children hooked. Food companies are no dopes: an addicted kid is a customer for life.

The tobacco industry has created a lot of smokers by giving away cigarettes to members of the armed services. Society wants to protect the young from taking up the habit, so there are rules. Currently, the manufacturers of cigarettes and liquor cannot go to the 4th of July parade and hand out free samples. But the purveyors of junk food can go anywhere and bestow on the public as many free samples as they like. A governmental move to change this would likely result in epic legal battles.

Would an advertising ban have to apply to all food ads directed at children? Would it be better to allow the advertising of healthful foods only? But then, every separate product would fight for its right to be designated good instead of bad, and there would be litigation for years.

In the interest of fairness, and of having any chance to work at all, it seems the only way would be to ban all food advertising aimed at kids. If that could be done, we would no doubt next see another round of courtroom wars, as multinational corporations fight to lower the age definitions of “children” and “youth” so that more minds can be exposed to their propaganda.

“Smoking and Overeating — Big and Bad”

Smoking and overeating both kill slowly, without the dramatic visuals associated with, for instance, a multi-car pileup instigated by a drunk driver. The cynical motto of some alleged journalists, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Some problems require people to act out and attract attention to their self-destruction. For others, smoking and overeating fulfill the same needs more quietly and almost interchangeably. A person might alternate between them, or even maintain both throughout life.

(To be continued…)

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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.

Food & Health Resources