What really causes obesity? Touching on the controversial subject of food as an addiction, Dr. Pretlow investigates the childhood obesity epidemic (and provides solutions) in his book, “Overweight: What Kids Say.”
We’ve discussed emotional eating and eatertaining here on Live Lighter before but many resist the idea that food can be an addiction. Dr. Robert Pretlow, director of Weigh2Rock.com (an online weight loss resource for kids and teens), presents a strong case for food addiction as the main cause for the childhood obesity epidemic.
The book’s most striking feature: it’s written by kids. At it’s most basic, “Overweight: What Kids Say” is an organized collection of comments from real overweight kids sharing their stories, struggles and successes with their weight challenges on the Weigh2Rock website.
Having been overweight for most of my life, their thoughts and feelings resonated with me, and opened some deep-seated wounds I thought I had healed. (It doesn’t help that I’ve gained 15 pounds since moving to my first house purchase at the end of May, either!)
Overview of the Review
Obesity is a real issue today (for both children and adults), and Dr. Pretlow’s work has the potential of making a positive impact on society. By simply listening to what kids say, his insights and practical solutions hint at:
- more effective health campaigns
- stronger support from parents, teachers, mentors and healthcare professionals
- changes in policies regarding marketing and manufacturing of junk food/fast food
- self-improvement for any addictive or obsessive behaviour
“What Kids Say” is especially powerful by allowing the reader access to the hearts and minds of these children. Whether you once were overweight or always thin, you’ll gain a new level of understanding and compassion for what it’s like to struggle with food and weight issues.
Obviously, if you’re looking for substance and real-life applicability, “Overweight: What Kids Say” has got all this in spades.
While Dr. Pretlow’s argument is sound, the pitfalls of “What Kids Say” are it’s presentation and delivery. The book has a lot of potential, offering us a scrumptious plate of nutritious protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. Just a little more spice, herbs and fixings, and we’ve got a palatable and digestible meal.
What promises does the book make and does it fulfill them?
In the introduction, Dr. Pretlow says:
“What are the lives of overweight kids like? Why do overweight kids continue to overeat, knowing full well that staying overweight damages their lives? Why do they struggle to such a degree to lose weight? What’s really causing the childhood obesity epidemic? What can be done about it? What overweight kids say concerning these questions is what this book is about. It’s the author’s hope that we can learn from their messages and offer strategies that are more in sync with what kids really need to succeed. If we risk new approaches, we can be better partners in helping them to combat the vicious cycles of being overweight.”
The author successfully answers these questions with compelling, real-life data, supporting his theory that food addiction is the root cause of the obesity epidemic. Dr. Pretlow also offers a resolution by sharing the kids’ successes and providing solid, easy-to-apply solutions.
Interesting questions raised or ideas that contribute to an industry debate?
“What Kids Say” directly challenges the “prevailing belief that the childhood obesity epidemic is due to the overabundant food environment and that kids don’t know how to make healthy choices.”
Instead, what these kids actually say is that they turn to food to ease sadness, stress, anger, fatigue, loneliness, and boredom, as well as the pain of being obese itself. Despite all the information they get on healthy living, they are unable to control their `comfort eating’ behaviour.
Dr. Pretlow also points out how food companies understand this addiction and use it to sell their junk food and fast food using slogans like, “Comfort in Every Bar” and “Life Tastes Better with KFC.”
In addition, he questions the effectiveness of current weight loss programs and suggests other ways to help control the obesity epidemic, like taxing and regulating foods kids say they have the most problem resisting.
How topical or important is the book?
If you haven’t noticed, obesity rates are rising all over the world (perhaps in direct correlation to the spread of western fast food and junk food to other countries?) and “for the first time in history, today’s kids will not live as long as their parents.”
Any pitfalls? Anything I disagree with?
Between my personal experience, industry research and what others are saying (like SexyFoodTherapy), I feel it in my bones that Dr. Pretlow has hit the nail on the head. Emotional eating and the addictive quality of packaged food is definitely at the heart of most, if not all, weight issues people experience.
Where it falls short is the professional touch. I’m no graphic designer but I was immediately put off by the front cover. It might be the colours, font, fuzzy images or maybe it’s just too busy? In any case, this proves you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.
On the other hand, the inside needs a professional touch, too. Currently, it’s perfect for healthcare professionals or people with a scientific, well-educated background. Dr. Pretlow sets out to provide hard evidence for a theory and, although he warns us at the beginning, “this book is not a scientific work,” it reads like one.
“Overweight: What Kids Say” is organized, well-researched, and successfully covers both the issue and solutions from several different angles. But it’s also repetitive and dry at times. Professional editing would make it more appealing to the average reader, help clarify the messages and create even more of an impression.
Why would you want to read it?
If you know someone who is obese or struggling with being overweight, this book would definitely benefit you. It will help you become more comfortable with them, and provide you practical ways in not only broaching the subject, but also effectively supporting them on their journey.
For those who are overweight themselves or struggling with an addiction (even an obsession), “What Kids Say” can offer you insight into your own behaviour, and ideas in how you can start helping yourself.
Although it’s a little rough around the edges and hard to read at times, it’s fascinating and helpful to hear what kids say about being overweight with explicit honesty. Dr. Pretlow adds to it with a sensible, workable theory of the real cause behind obesity, and practical suggestions in how we can improve it.
I’m impressed with Dr. Pretlow’s work and can only imagine what it would have taken to go through and organize over 134, 000 anonymous messages from his open-access website for overweight kids. The information is worth it’s weight in gold but it would reach more people by activating a few more of the reader’s senses.
About the author
Dr. Robert Pretlow graduated with honors from Princeton University. He received his MD from the University of Virginia Medical School, where he also did his internship and residency in pediatrics. He is board certified in pediatrics and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He has a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Old Dominion University.
Dr. Pretlow has published 13 articles, has been awarded 5 U.S. patents, and has presented 41 abstracts, keynotes, plenaries, panels, and tutorials at national and international conferences. He lectures frequently on overweight in children and teens and use of the Internet in medicine.
Dr. Pretlow is founder and director of Weigh2Rock, an online weight loss system for teens and preteens, used by clinics, schools, private practitioners, hospitals, community centers, and health clubs, worldwide.
He has two children, a boy and a girl.
Disclosure: An advanced copy of “Overweight: What Kids Say” was given to me in exchange for an honest review.
Click here for kids under 18 to download the book for free, and for everyone else, you can purchase the book for an extremely reasonable cost.
Do you struggle with weight issues? Do you feel that emotional eating and/or the addictive quality of junk food contributes to it?