The Run-up to the MLK Day

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is coming soon (January 20), and in Tampa, Florida, they don’t half-step. Forget about a paltry day — the city celebrates with Tampa Bay Black Heritage Week which actually lasts 10 days! January 11 was “Move It to Lose It: a 5K run-walk to bring awareness to childhood obesity.” One of the perpetual debates about obesity is how much of it stems from the influence of genetics, especially big genetics, like race. For years, researchers have been piecing together clues.

A 2006 article outlined a theory espoused by, among others, Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of clinical pediatrics. He spoke of the insulinogenic environment, whose elements include the high fat content, increased fructose content, high glycemic index, and decreased fiber content of food these days. Leptin reduces appetite, and insulin blocks the effectiveness of leptin, and promotes the dopamine rush that rewards pleasure-eating. A research team found that:

[…] greater degrees of insulin resistance in African-American children might help explain why such children generally attain pubertal milestones earlier than their Caucasian counterparts…

Through extensive research on attitudes throughout the world, Rebecca Popenoe learned about what the members of some American groups do or do not get hung up about. For instance in Pennsylvania, city-dwelling Puerto Ricans equate a substantial wife with a satisfying life.

The author also discovered that African-American girls are less concerned about weight than about personal style, along with other facts to indicate that despite what the dominant white culture thinks, “contrasting female bodily ideals have a particular tenacity as markers of identity, honor, and well-being among marginalized and non-dominant ethnic groups within American society.” Popenoe also noted:

Fatness has also been shown to possess positive connotations for black American women, who associate it with strength, health, and invulnerability; for Mexican-Americans; and for Native Americans.

Where obesity is concerned, non-white Americans are under a disadvantage, part of which consists of the fact that many — although by no means all — are economically disadvantaged, and this makes difference. It’s not just that poor people make poor choices, it’s that “the stress of poverty itself” is a harmful negative factor.

Heather Tirado Gilligan wrote that the poor are…

[…] preoccupied with very different choices than wealthier people are… The immediacy of these pressures may make it more difficult to think about how eating choices today will affect health 10 or 20 years from now.

Stress from the “constant calculus of survival” is in itself a powerful factor that affects both mind and body. Another term for that force is what biologist Bruce McEwan calls the “allostatic load,” a perpetual malaise that is said to cause general systemic inflammation, the fertile breeding ground for a multitude of serious health problems.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown found that for many households, lack of access to a vehicle contributes to chronic tension. That’s where the allostatic load comes in. Just because you technically have “access” to a vehicle doesn’t mean you’re set. If you only have one child seat, you can’t go shopping on the day when an extra toddler is being babysat. If your husband needs to sleep because he worked night shift, you can’t do errands and leave the kids with him, either. Whatever their ethnic background, far too many people face challenges they really should not have to deal with.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Where to find MLK parades, Tampa Bay Black Heritage events and more,”, 01/07/20
Source: “Childhood obesity caused by ‘toxic environment’ of Western diets, study says,”, 10/11/06
Source: “Obesity and the pubertal transition in girls and boys,”, 2008
Source: “Feeding Desire: Fatness, Beauty and Sexuality Among a Saharan People,”, 2004
Source: “Food Deserts Aren’t the Problem,”, 02/10/14
Source: “Five Years and $500 Million Later, USDA Admits That ‘Food Deserts’ Don’t Matter,”, 06/13/16
Image by Helge V. Keitel/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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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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