Cheap Change

Recently, we discussed the “Healthy Habits, Happy Homes” program. The source article quoted Elsie Taveras, Chief of General Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, who led the study that determined the program’s effectiveness. She said,

Our findings demonstrate that relatively simple, no-cost changes in routines within the home can help children maintain or achieve a healthful weight.

A skeptic might scoff, “Improve household routines? Bah, humbug!” On the other hand, we have seen that changing the environment is often a valid strategy. “Healthy Habits, Happy Homes” encouraged parents to remove televisions from children’s bedrooms, so the kids could get enough sleep, which in turn is believed to reduce obesity.

In practice, this suggestion had a drawback. The low-income subjects were lucky to simply be housed, and often lived in such cramped quarters that parents shared their bedroom with a child or multiple children.

Environmental modification

Could a parent alleviate the TV situation by using headphones, so the kids would be more likely to sleep? Conversely, in another household, a child might be driving Mom crazy with a shoot-’em-up video game. “To keep me from hearing those extremely annoying computer-generated sound effects, what needs to happen?” can be a significant life question. “Buy the kid some headphones” can be the answer. Surely, anything that reduces stress in the home ought to be welcomed.

That might be an alternative — except for one thing. It would be a suggestion born of privilege, made by well-meaning people with good-paying jobs who fail to understand that a family’s budget might not extend to impulse buys — which is why the Mass General academics emphasized the importance of “simple, no-cost changes in routines.”

What might some of those changes be?

William Butler Yeats said of one of his poems, “I made it out of a mouthful of air.” According to an old saying, talk is cheap. But that doesn’t mean it is worthless. On the contrary, the subjects we choose and the ways in which we address them can make a difference all out of proportion to the exertion involved in producing the sounds.

Elizabeth Harrington wrote rather dismissively of a University of Michigan study that spent nearly $80,000 of taxpayers’ money on examining how parents verbally communicate with their children about food and eating.

The researchers were interested not only in food talk during actual meals, but in eating-related references in other contexts throughout the day. They broke it down into a dozen “food talk codes” including Enjoyment; Desire/Need; Food Refusal; Indulgence; Monitoring; Overt Restriction; Overt Encouragement; Negotiation/Bribe/Reward; Prep/Planning; Food Explanations; Outside Home Food; and Mealtime Rules and Routines.

The next Childhood Obesity News post will discuss the study’s six main findings and its five highlights.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “In-home intervention improves routines that reduce risk of childhood obesity,”, 09/09/13
Source: “Feds Spend $77563 Studying How Parents Talk to Their Kids About Food,”, 07/22/15
Source: “Family food talk, child eating behavior, and maternal feeding practices,”, 06/03/17
Photo by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

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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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