Obesity Villains Maybe, Indoors and Out

Everyone is familiar with the factors most often blamed for childhood obesity. Kids don’t walk to school anymore; advertisers take advantage of them; soda is too readily available. There are probably a dozen top causes that various sectors of the public love to hate. Additionally, over the years, a number of “niche” obesity causes have been mooted, some of them pretty weird. And we must never forget that 10 or 20 years from now, one of today’s seemingly outlandish alleged causes might turn out to be accepted as gospel.

Celebrity chefs or obesity villains? You decide.

In 2009, Juliette Rossant wrote:

[T]here are plenty of overweight people in fine food businesses who have trouble refraining from rich food and finding enough time to exercise. Overeat junk or overeat fine food — it doesn’t matter — both will probably make you fat.

An article in a more prominent publication had mentioned the weight loss victories of several well-known chefs who were able to shed 40, 50, or 80 pounds. One was even working on a cookbook that featured low-calorie versions of beloved comfort foods. Another renowned chef, Alton Brown, at his public speaking events, had begun to notice a lot of very heavy fans in the audiences, and mused about the role played in obesity by glamorous cooks like himself:

Celebrity chefs are the high priests of the food craze that is partly responsible for the fattening of America. We helped people get into this mess. I don’t see why we shouldn’t help get them out.

A few years later, journalist Adam Sherwin described how…

Nutrition experts tested more than 900 recipes from 26 famous cooks and found 87 per cent fell “substantially short” of the Government’s healthy eating recommendations. The study […] found that many celebrity chef recipes in cookbooks contained “undesirable levels” of saturated fatty acids (SFA), sugars and salt which are linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

One disgraceful meal contained five times the recommended maximum daily amount of saturated fatty acids, and half the chefs whose work was scrutinized used far too much salt. The study authors, however, stopped short of publicly shaming any particular individuals. But Sherwin dug a little deeper and reported that a previous investigation at another university had found…

[…] that a dish from a Jamie Oliver cookbook, Cauliflower Macaroni, contained 1,100 calories per serving, about half an adult’s recommended daily intake. It also contained 58g of fat, three-quarters of a person’s daily need. A recipe for braised pork by Nigella Lawson contained 1,340 calories.

From out of left field

An uncredited article in 2013 spoke of a study in which the researchers compared the outdoor activity time of children in two communities, one where the city practiced mosquito abatement and another where authorities did not address the problem. The study pointed the obesity blame finger at the Asian tiger mosquito because “untreated infestations […] might contribute to childhood obesity by curbing outdoor play.”

First published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, that study also made headlines in “an embarrassingly large assortment of other publications,” wrote an uncredited journalist. When a topic is hot, as childhood obesity was during the Obama administration, of course reporters want to speak of the relevant matters that are on the public’s mind. But yes, this particular pitch was actually quite a reach, reminiscent of the “butterfly effect” question that gave birth to chaos theory.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Time: Fat Celebrity Chefs,” SuperChef.us, 12/07/09
Source: “Television chefs adding to obesity crisis with fatty dishes warn academics,” Independent.co.uk, 04/23/13
Source: “Headlines That Bite: Mosquitoes Cause Childhood Obesity?,” ConscienHealth.org, 07/30/13
Image by Edmond Wells/CC BY-ND 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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