Our Kids and Hobson’s Choice

The expression “Hobson’s choice” has been around for a long time, so long that most people don’t even know how it originated or what it means. It is something like being caught “between a rock and a hard place” or “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Officially, it is the necessity of accepting one of two equally objectionable alternatives.

In this country, we can freely choose to let kids circulate in society, potentially taking on board a case of coronavirus that could kill them or at least horribly complicate their futures by causing long-lasting physical problems, including brain damage.

Or we can freely choose to keep them cooped up as much as possible, potentially endangering their mental health. The difference between the two fates is that physical damage to the brain is not reversible, while emotional damage from sequestration and lack of social interaction can at least be treated, somewhere down the line. But neither course is the one we would choose if more choices were available.

This is the environment in which Julie Pearson Anderson and Melissa Fuller wrote about emotional and mental health among the young:

After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental illness and the demand for child psychological services are at an all-time high. Not only did child mental health deteriorate during the pandemic, but childhood obesity rates rose. Experts say much of that increase can be attributed to schools being closed and children not having access to P.E. classes, equipment and play areas they ordinarily would use.

What can help? Physical activity. The authors cite a metastudy published by Sports Medicine, in which 114 other studies were examined. Its “Results” section says,

[S]ignificant associations were found between greater amounts of sedentary behavior and both increased psychological ill-being (i.e. depression) and lower psychological well-being (i.e. satisfaction with life and happiness) in children and adolescents.

There are some differences between children and teens, but overall, between ages 6 and 18, active youngsters show less depression and less psychological distress. They also manifest more positive self-image, more satisfaction with life, more psychological well-being, and more of what is generally recognized as mental health.

Children’s mental health is “in crisis,” according to the American Psychological Association, and “national emergency” is a term used by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of course, experts hope to see more “school-based mental health interventions” but given recent patterns in public priorities and funding, that seems unlikely to happen.

Meanwhile, we have some suggestions about how to keep kids active even in restricted environments, which may become even more restricted after this period of false optimism. Just because everybody is fed up with COVID, that does not mean COVID is going to tuck its tail between its legs and slink away.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hobson’s choice,” Merriam-Webster.com, undated
Source: “Kids and Mental Health: The more they move, the better their mood,” PrestigiousScholarships.com, 06/24/22
Source: “Role of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in the Mental Health of Preschoolers, Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis,” BachLab.pitt.edu 04/16/19
Image by Emran Kassim/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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