Texas Tech University

Expert: Childhood Obesity Must Be Treated as Disease, Not Moral Failing

Heidi Toth

December 7, 2016

Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar is a past president of The Obesity Society, and chairman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech University.

Obese child

Six years after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that children as young as 6 be screened and treated for obesity, a report published Wednesday (Dec. 7) indicated doctors aren't screening children and insurance policies aren't covering treatment more significantly today. The report, which includes input from 43 multidisciplinary stakeholders, was published in Obesity, The Obesity Society's (TOS) journal and was the product of a conference sponsored by TOS, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.

The report lists recommended changes, including family-based behavioral therapy, integrated chronic care and a multi-disciplinary team approach. For more on the study, go to Obesity.

Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, a past president of The Obesity Society and chairman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech University, is available to discuss this report and the need for increased attention to childhood obesity. Dhurandhar began his career as a physician treating people with obesity, then turned to research, focusing on a human adenovirus that has been shown to cause obesity. He is a pioneer in the movement within the medical community to see obesity as a complex disease instead of the calories in vs. calories out model society accepted for decades.


Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, chairman, Department of Nutritional Sciences, (806) 834-6446 or nikhil.dhurandhar@ttu.edu

Talking points and quotes

  • Childhood obesity is a serious disease and not easy to manage. A week ago, a teenage girl in Texas City (outside of Houston), shot herself, citing bullying about her weight.
  • For many, obesity still is seen as a product of poor behavior and choices that can be legislated away. Two years ago, Puerto Rico tried to fine parents of children with obesity.
  • Another form of well-meaning but insensitive (and ultimately ineffective) discrimination used against children with obesity is to weigh them in school and send home letters about their weight – so-called "fat letters." The relationship between the school system and students' weight is addressed in the documentary "The Student Body," in which Dhurandhar is interviewed.
  • In reality, penalizing parents of children with obesity is similar to penalizing parents of children with cancer or other diseases.
  • "Obesity in general is considered a personal failure and treated as an issue of greediness and laziness that can be fixed by simple behavioral measures. In children, these sentiments are even more amplified. These children should simply be 'disciplined' and parents be penalized, according to one view."
  • "We absolutely need to address childhood obesity. But it should be addressed as the disease that it is, not with a casual approach to address a moral failure."

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