Wider Education

Of course, the usual order of the universe has been seriously disrupted during the last academic year, but let’s roll back the clock to “normal” times, when going away to college and beginning dormitory life presented major changes that could affect young people severely. Just in itself, transitioning from high school and hometown to higher education and maybe even a different state proves to be traumatic for many. Need we mention the fabled “freshman 15,” the number of pounds that according to legend the average first-year college student will gain?

Childhood Obesity News has shared personal stories, of both male and female students, and mentioned such related notions as combining a “gap year” travel itinerary with a serious fitness program.

Brain strain

“Too much homework” has been named as a problem for children, teens, and college students alike. Combining hitting the books with nibbling the snacks is inevitably a strong temptation, and the anxiety of an upcoming exam can trigger an eating binge.

“Working long hours” has been named by some adults as a reason for their dietary downfall, and many college students, aside from studying, must also cope with gainful employment. With an overfilled schedule, there is a tendency to grab fast-food meals and vending-machine treats.

But here is a puzzler. The very act of thinking, itself, has been blamed as an obesity villain. Angelo Tremblay and Claude Bouchard, collaborators in the decades-long Quebec Family Study, wrote in 2008,

What we found is that demanding cognitive effort increases food intake and increases cortisolemia as well as glycemic instability, including the risk of mild hypoglycemia… When you perform vigorous physical activity, you remain temporarily in negative energy balance even after you eat. When you perform vigorous mental activity — working on a computer in our studies — you end up in positive energy balance. You consume more calories than you expended doing the work.

And also, on the other hand…

Two years ago, a Northwestern University research team suggested that brain usage “could influence patterns of energy expenditure and weight gain” because according to the energy balance paradigm, “weight gain occurs when an individual’s energy intake exceeds their energy expenditure.” Co-author Christopher Kuzawa told the press,

When kids are 5, their brains use almost half of their bodies’ energy. And yet, we have no idea how much the brain’s energy expenditure varies between kids. This is a huge hole in our understanding of energy expenditure.

These scholars hope that future child-development studies will pay more attention to the brain’s energy consumption. They would also like to know more about how enrichment programs like Head Start influence the brain’s energy use patterns.

Postscript: The type of strenuous thinking that consumes so much of a small child’s energy, and gives the brain of a college student such a workout, is not to be confused with mindfulness, a different quality that is always good.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Angelo Tremblay on the Environmental Risk Factors for Obesity,” ScienceWatch.com, August 2010
Source: “The brain consumes half of a child’s energy — and that could matter for weight gain,” ScienceDaily, 06/17/19
Image by Tom Hilton/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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