The 80/20 rule in childhood obesity prevention

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

Walk into any school system in the nation and you’ll find the following scenario. Approximately 10% of students will be strong and light enough (it takes both) to do at least one conventional pull up. Statistics confirm that students who can do even one pull up are ALMOST NEVER OBESE. On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find another approximately 10% of students who are just too heavy to do even one conventional pull up.

In between those two bookends you’ll find approximately 80% of students who are PROBABLY NOT OBESE, yet they lack the upper body pulling strength and kinesthetic know-how to do even one single pull up. Members of this 80% are particularly interesting because, as the low hanging fruit, they hold the key to winning the war against childhood obesity. Check it out.

The Low Hanging Fruit
You see, because they currently don’t carry much excess body fat, it’s relatively easy for members of this middle group to learn to do pull ups. In so doing, they’ll arm themselves against obesity for life if they simply maintain the ability – which itself demands decent eating and exercise habits and about 30 seconds each week from participants.

So on one hand, if they eat too poorly, exercise too little, and gain too much body fat, students will lose the ability to pull their own weight. On the other hand, if they maintain the ability, whatever they’re doing from an exercise and nutrition perspective is sufficient to allow them to avoid obesity for life.

50% Armed Against Obesity for Life
Now what happens if we give all the kids in this school system access to the info and experiences that will help them develop the ability, and half of the 80% group learns to do pull ups in the first school year? Do the math and you’ll find that 50% of all students (10% + 40% = 50%) will be able to physically pull their own weight in year one. And yes, if they maintain the ability they’ll never have to wrestle with obesity and related problems for the rest of their lives.

In year two let’s say that half of the remaining 40% of that middle group learns to physically pull their own weight. At the end of the second year you’ll have 70% of students (50% + 20% = 70%) who are armed against obesity for life as long as they maintain the ability.

Five Years and Obesity is History
If this scenario is repeated over four or five years, obesity would be eliminated among the middle 80% of students, and when added to the original 10% who were already able do pull ups, you’d have 90% of your students who have armed themselves against obesity for life.

On the other hand, we’ve still done nothing to address the problem for the 10% of students who currently suffer from the problem. What does this functional strategy offer them?

Rehab is All About Motivation
It offers simplicity, understandability, a place to start and succeed immediately, and a way to make regular, documented progress over time until these students finally develop the ability to physically pull their own weight and have armed themselves against obesity for life. In other words, it offers this 10% of students a way to get motivated, a way to stay motivated, to persist, and to do the things they must do in order to reach the goal of learning to do at least one conventional pull up. With this group it all really does boil down to three things, motivation, motivation, and more motivation.


Rick Osbourne is a former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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