Even the Most Fortunate Must Struggle

In the past, Childhood Obesity News published a series of posts around the theme of “wider education,” a corny pun on the well-known phrase “higher education” which means going to college. That qualification alone can include different life situations. One kid stays with the family, or at least in the hometown, and commutes to school. Another travels to the opposite end of the country and takes up residence in a totally different environment, among mainly strangers.

Generally, we tend to think of young adults as a pretty hardy species, which is borne out by their tendency to subject themselves to extreme environmental conditions, like clubbing for several hours a night.

Yet, many people of that age are adversely sensitive to overstimulation by noise and light, and tend to find it difficult to adjust to the unremittingly boisterous atmosphere that might be encountered in, for instance, a university dormitory. For this reason (among countless others) they might feel enough stress to self-medicate with the wrong kinds of food, and too much of it.

Noise is apparently an appetite stimulant, just when one is least needed:

Researcher Dipayan Biswas conducted a study of noise in restaurants and concluded, “If ambient music played in a restaurant is louder, the customers are more susceptible to choose unhealthful foods… When the music was louder… 20 percent more customers ordered something that was not good for them, compared to those who dined during the lower-volume times.

There are, of course, other factors. With young folks in a new situation, among their own kind, and out from under parental supervision, it is likely that drinking plays a much larger part in weight gain than eating does. Alcohol is able to sabotage weight goals in five different ways.

It not only contains calories but stimulates the appetite and is a disruptor of the body’s fat-processing routines. It impedes judgment (making healthy choices less likely) and interferes with the hormones. There are few sadder sights than a 19-year-old with a beer belly.

The environment

For someone raised in more spacious climes, the residential density either on or off campus could be a problem, with its general inescapable background noise and light pollution and consequent sleep disruption. Some engage in overeating as a cure. Of course, other kids thrive on the stimulation of tumult, confusion, and constant novelty.

A factor that seems to grow exponentially every year is screen use. A 2020 report said,

New research reveals that media use before bedtime translates to less sleep for children who generally struggle to self-regulate their behavior. Children who scored high on measures of effortful control, however, were able to enjoy a restful night, regardless of their pre-sleep media use.

At the same time, however, it has been difficult for researchers to put their finger on exactly why a link exists between television and overweight kids.

Academic scrutiny

A 2008 electronic survey of 131 respondents found that only 5% of the freshmen had gained 15 pounds or more, which pretty well invalidated the old saying. For the entire sample, the average gain was just under three pounds. The male students tended to gain more than the females. Anyway, nobody got too excited because, among other reasons, a study of 18-to 24-year-olds at around the same time found that non-students gained more than students.

With students, it is quite possible that thinking hard makes them burn calories rather than conserve them. We are far from knowing everything there is to know about the connection between brain usage and energy expenditure. The whole relationship between age and the body’s fuel requirements is variable and subject to change.

Look at very young kids, like five-year-olds, whose “brains use almost half of their bodies’ energy.” According to a Northwestern University study,

[V]ariation in the energy needs of brain development across kids in terms of the timing, intensity and duration of energy use could influence patterns of energy expenditure and weight gain.

[W]e have no idea how much the brain’s energy expenditure varies between kids. This is a huge hole in our understanding of energy expenditure.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Loud music at restaurants could be leading you to order burgers over salads, study says,” WashingtonPost.com, 05/29/18
Source: “Think of it as turning off fat burning’: 5 ways drinking alcohol sabotages weight loss goals,” BusinessInsider.com, 07/29/22
Source: “Does Bedtime Media Use Harm Children’s Sleep? Only if They Struggle to Self-Regulate Behavior,” PsychologicalScience.org, 06/23/20
Source: “The Freshman 15: Is it Real?,” NIH.gov, 2008
Source: “The brain consumes half of a child’s energy — and that could matter for weight gain,” ScienceDaily.com, 06/17/19
Image by Mihnea Maftei/CC BY 2.0 DEED

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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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