Good Intentions, Bad Practice?

It is interesting sometimes to take a random fact and ponder its implications. For instance, this article mentions that people with college degrees are less likely to be obese than those who went no further than high school. What does this mean in terms of childhood obesity?

For one thing, it is possible that the social unease experienced by obese teenagers could encourage behavior like ditching school. Being fat-shamed might lead to a general lack of confidence that would make grades drop, and thoughts of higher education fall by the wayside. What are grades, when you can neither be nor date a cheerleader? A kid who is sick of being bullied or ignored might think, “What’s the use? College will probably just be more of the same,” and become de-motivated.

Zoom out

It seems pretty apparent that every societal problem that concerns obesity could be greatly alleviated by concentrating on obesity among children. The earlier obesity starts, the more difficult it is to escape. The longer it continues, the longer it will take to shed the extra pounds. Early intervention must be the key to all future transactions between people’s bodies and the culture they live in.

Or maybe not. A persuasive philosophy holds that kids are already too restricted, harnessed, manipulated, scrutinized, pressured, or exploited. When it comes to child-rearing, the happy medium between license and over-control seems impossible to find. This can be the case in the micro-world of the family and the macro-universe of society. People with diverse views on other issues often agree that there is too much government control of one thing or another.

For instance, there are strong arguments against requiring schools to be involved in weight surveillance. Such a policy encourages bullying, they say. Also, bringing schools into the loop is said not to make any difference in the results.

According to a CNN article, about 40% of American children are likely to have letters or “report cards” about their weight sent home. This is based on a study published by JAMA Pediatrics. The team looked at 29,000 California children in third through seventh grade. Research indicates that the results are mixed, at best:

Such BMI report cards “increase parents’ weight-related anxiety but provide little guidance about evidence-based health promotion strategies and offer no structural support for behavior change,” said Dr. Tracy K. Richmond, an eating disorder specialist.

An increase in eating disorders is indeed one of the fears aroused by school involvement in monitoring weight. For parents who are uneasy with this practice, it is one area in which parents can make a difference by becoming activists at the local and state level.

Another point of view sees nothing wrong in the basic principle of school involvement but asserts that Body Mass Index measurement is not the way to go.

Of course, everything else depends on the current response to COVID-19. Will children even be in school? If they are, will the distancing rules preclude such activities as weight measurement?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Most Obese States 2021,”, undated
Source: “School warnings about children’s weight don’t work, study says,”, 11/16/20
Images by Harmony and puuikibeach/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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