Doubtful Authorities

People have been objecting to the content, methodology, and what they deem the low publication standards of work by Dr. Brian Wansink, in combination with various research partners. These scholars are shaping public opinion, and government funding, around such topics as school gardens, professional chefs in schools, chocolate milk, what is sold by concessions stands, the measurement of food waste, nutrition report cards, and sliced fruit versus whole fruit.

Many of their subjects coincide with the interests of childhood obesity specialists, and are or could be quite useful. Why would a child pick a cupcake instead of a whole apple? We probably know the answer to that. But would a whole-apple-refusing child happily eat a sliced apple?

It depends. The researchers did what Dr. Pretlow always recommends — they asked the kids:

Interviews with children reveal that eating whole fresh fruit can be difficult for those with small mouths or braces. Older girls find whole fruits messy and unattractive to eat.

The idea of supplying each child with a “nutrition report card” may sound good at first, but the cumulative effect of that much surveillance — and that much reporting back to parents — would probably be detrimental. Some ideas that sound unnecessary or absurd to the taxpayer might prove very helpful in preventing obesity.

Others, even if they seize public imagination, might turn out to be useless or worse. Even the craziest notion could lead to an amazing revelation. But the weirder the idea, the more important a solid scientific investigation would be.

The Lunch Tray lady

Let’s get back to Bettina Elias Siegel, the citizen blogger who became seriously interested in Dr. Wansink about 10 years ago. In 2014 she reviewed one of his studies (with two co-authors) titled “Ingredient-Based Food Fears and Avoidance: Antecedents and Antidotes.”

Why do consumers, and especially mothers, develop strong negative feelings about certain ingredients including, but not limited to, “sodium, fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and lean finely textured beef”? The first five on the list are amply familiar to Childhood Obesity News readers.

The other part of the researchers’ curiosity, and rather ominously, related to “what the food industry and government can do about it.” (Why the food industry and/or the government should do anything, one way or the other, about these largely justifiable food fears is a separate question.)

And isn’t the whole attitude rather patronizing? After all, plenty of experts have spoken out against HFCS, sugar, and many other substances, with what appears to be good reason. Oh, by the way, the study was partly funded by the Corn Refiners Association. Siegel writes,

While the study never takes a position on whether that particular “food fear” is legitimate […] Wansink’s own statements in the media would certainly be reassuring to anyone worried about HFCS — and that alone is troubling given the CRA’s financial ties to the study.

What was Wansink saying to the media? Disingenuous baloney like,“It’s kind of crazy. How do these things get started and get traction without really any evidence at all?” But we are not here to steal Siegel’s thunder. This treatise of hers really deserves to be read and fully appreciated, containing as it does a sterling example of why many professionals look upon Wansick’s studies with a jaundiced eye.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Smarter Lunchrooms Movement (SML),”, undated
Source: “Pre-Sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias”, 05/01/13
Source: “Moms, ‘Food Fears’ and the Power of the Internet,”, 07/08/14
Images (left to right): Marco Verch, Frédéric Bisson
, Rodrigo Denúbila/(CC BY 2.0)

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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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