Creative Obesity Prevention

Children’s hands and mouths are both heavily implicated in the destructive habit of snacking, so let’s continue with the theme of keeping at least one of those parts busy. Of course, it is technically possible to eat or drink while doing almost any activity, but just because a thing can be done, does not mean it should be done.

Snacking needs to be discouraged, and that starts with parents and other grownups modeling the expected behavior. The culture has normalized the idea of having food or drink within reach, every second of the day. But cultures can change. Parents have the opportunity to create a mini-culture at home. Of course, setting a good example is important not just to prevent obesity, but in every other area of life too.

For instance, parents who hit their kids, and tell them not to fight at school, are standing on shaky ground. When an authority figure does something and at the same time tells children not to do it, feelings arise. Hypocrisy is the fastest and most guaranteed way of losing a child’s willingness to comply with house rules, and indeed to forfeit their respect in general.

Idle hands

There have been many variations of the Henry David Thoreau quotation, “The devil finds work for idle hands.” It is certainly true in the area of overeating and obesity! To supply a child with something fun to occupy their hands is a great step toward eating avoidance. We mentioned the usefulness of jigsaw puzzles, and those are only one-dimensional, so just contemplate how helpful three-dimensional puzzles are. The Rubik’s cube comes readily to mind, but nowadays dozens of types of hand-manipulated puzzles are commercially available.

For little kids, to help their manual skills, a beanbag is nice. How many times (or for how long, if counting isn’t their strong suit) can a child toss it from one hand to the other without dropping it? If there are two kids, how many times can they exchange the beanbag if they both use their right hands? If they both use their left hands? A ball also works for this, of course, but also bounces all over the place. If you’d prefer that the players stay relatively sedate, the beanbag is a better choice. As always, the idea here is to fill up time without filling up mouths.

How about a spoon and a small rubber (or ping-pong) ball? How many times can the child carry it around the room or the yard without dropping it? What about with the other hand? How about walking backwards? If it’s more than one child, so much the better. There is the incentive of competition, but it’s not too rough and rowdy for an indoor game.

Also, indoors, kids can do a fake balancing act. Stretch some masking tape across the floor and let them practice tightrope-walking along the line. Using something longer and more flexible, like string, they can create a twisty, maze-like path on the floor, then tightrope walk on it.

Sympathy for the devil

Normally, screen time is to be avoided, but YouTube is chockfull of videos about how to yo-yo and how to juggle. If you can interest a kid in either of these pursuits, there will be many hours in which her or his hands are not occupied with eating food.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Images by Jorge, Andy Rennie, and Marco Verch Professional/CC BY 2.0

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The Book

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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