As someone working exclusively in the field of obesity, I was approached by Dr Pretlow to ask if I would review his book “Overweight – What kids say“. I was delighted to be asked. (Dr Pretlow’s main site is here).
The book is based on comments made by overweight kids and teenagers on two identical sites run by Dr Pretlow: www.weigh2rock.com and www.blubberbuster.com. The sites look fun and interactive and the comments in the book reflect the value that young people get from them. The book content is almost entirely provided by verbatim comments made by the people using these sites. Dr Pretlow provides a narrative and asks questions for which the comments provide answers e.g. What do overweight kids say about their parents? We then get many examples of responses, as a factual illustration of what kids say in answer to this question. The title of the book is a well chosen one.
I must admit that the unedited verbatim comments don’t make comfortable reading for anyone used to writing for a living. You can read pages before finding one comment that is even close to being spelled properly, let alone grammatically correct. I know young people use text speak, slang and abbreviations, but saying “board” when they mean “bored” or “choose” when they mean “choice” makes one wonder if there will be any authors in the future!
If you can tolerate reading 300 pages of essentially ‘text messages’, the content will in turn make you laugh and then make you cry. More will make you cry and they should all make us, as adults, feel guilty. We have failed these children. We have put profits of the food industry ahead of the health of our next generation and we have created, as just one example, a 500lb “Fat boy 15” who has to be home schooled as a result of his weight. We have cut him off from the world before he is even an adult himself. What is he then most likely to do to overcome loneliness and boredom? Eat.
The minimum that these kids feel is embarrassed – embarrassed to go out, to be themselves, to have slimmer friends, to do activities required of them at school – to even be alive. Some have considered suicide. Weight, fat, size and diets are totally dominating and ruining the lives of these young people. The exhaustion of trying yet another diet and the despair of failure is palpable. It really is heartbreaking. It also made me angry. We didn’t have an obesity epidemic until we changed our diet advice away from what we evolved to eat – meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, salads and local fruits – foods provided by nature – to grains, grains, more grains, breads, cereals, man-made spreads, low fat this, low fat that. The food industry profits have got as fat as our children. The joy of shareholders is equal and opposite to the despair of the consumers.
We have been watching Jamie’s Food Revolution on TV in the UK these past few months – it aired first in the USA. My heart sank when I saw the USDA custodian for the region, ‘Rhonda’, saying that kids must have two breads with every meal and I nearly threw something at the screen when she confirmed that fries counted as a portion of veg. Carbs are uniquely addictive and uniquely fattening – processed carbs especially. Why is the USDA not insisting that children eat the most nutritious foods at school lunch? Where is the campaign to get liver, sardines, eggs and real milk (not low fat rubbish) into the school meal plan? How long will it be before Dr Pretlow is reporting overweight kids as saying “my government made me fat”?
The most commonly asked question on www.weigh2rock.com and www.blubberbuster.com is, unsurprisingly, how do I lose weight? There are the usual platitudes about ‘eat less/do more’, which the site would do well to counter and provide evidence for the futility of this route. Since Benedict, 1917, through Keys, 1945, and Stunkard and McLaren-Hume, 1959, to the most recent definitive study that I have seen – Franz et al 2007, all evidence confirms that ‘eat less/do more’ does not achieve sustained weight loss. Stunkard & McLaren-Hume quantified the failure rate as 98% – a statistic we often hear today and may not know from whence it came. What can work is eating better, eating what we ate before we had an obesity epidemic, eating the food provided by nature that we have evolved to eat.
I was encouraged by the number of children who had worked out the right advice for themselves – cut out the junk and stop snacking were tips that will have a significant positive impact. There were also some excellent tips for dealing with cravings and the support that kids get from each other in the site will undoubtedly help.
Dr Pretlow addresses the very real issue of food addiction – a topic that has also been a key area of interest for me. I was very pleased to see Pretlow exploring ways in which kids could eliminate the foods to which they are addicted from their diet. 68% of the respondents to one survey reported feeling addicted to food and 66% feeling out of control with food. My only surprise was that these figures were not in the 90% range. People cannot be addicts in moderation. We should no more advise food addicts to eat sugary processed food in moderation than we should tell alcoholics to drink in moderation. We need to start treating food addiction for what it is – a serious addiction with serious consequences. The work that the sites do in this area is invaluable.
This is a unique and important book. I have not before seen so many comments from so many young people about so many different aspects of one issue – their weight. We adults need to take responsibility for the part we have played in making our children overweight – starting with dieticians, who are little more than sales reps for the food and drink industry and whose professional body is sponsored by a who’s who of the food industry.
Even in this area, the children have clear views as to who should help them. 74% want an advisor who was overweight, but isn’t now. Only 5% want an advisor who has never been overweight. Whether we have been overweight or not, whether young people can relate to us or not, we can all play our part. We can read this book, hear what young people are saying and do anything and everything we can to stop this horrific (childhood) obesity epidemic. For my part that means campaigning for a return to real food and a condemnation of the processed food that made us fat and sick. What will your part be?