Obese Teens Lacking Weight Loss Education

teen obesityNew research found that obese teens do not completely understand the relationship between exercise and weight loss. An analysis from the Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found that from a group of 44,000 teens, obese girls that were trying to lose weight were more likely than obese boys to participate in 60 minutes of activity daily.  However, they were also more likely to regularly drink sugary beverages, sabotaging their exercise efforts. Obese boys who were trying to lose weight, on the other hand, did not exercise and played video games for at least three hours each day. Three out of every four obese teens said that they were actively trying to lose weight; however, these teens were more likely than their peers to put their health at risk by engaging in smoking—possible as a weight loss tactic.

The study authors suggest that there is a lack of education about how exercising works to burn calories. They point out that in order to burn the calories in just one sugary beverage the teens would need to run a full mile.  With childhood obesity rates on the rise and one in three American children now overweight or obese, it is critical to provide practical weight loss education.

One recent effort to provide weight loss education to teens was a computer-tailored intervention conducted by researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The intervention was designed to increase physical activity, decrease sedentary behavior, and encourage healthy eating practices. The online program was called the FATaintPHAT intervention and was tested on 883 students in the Netherlands, all ranging from 12–13 years of age.  Teens in the group were identified as being “at-risk” if they did not meet healthy behavioral guidelines at the start of the study. The intervention consisted of eight modules containing information about the behavior-health link, an assessment of behavior, as well as individually tailored feedback on the behavior. The feedback was designed to prompt specific goal setting and action planning related to the behavior.

Unfortunately, the intervention was not linked with positive long-term outcomes, but may encourage better eating behaviors in the short-term. For the total sample group, the researchers found that the intervention did not have an effect on body mass index, waist circumference, or percentage of overweight/obese students. The intervention did, however, seem to have an effect on short-term eating behavior. For example, after four months on the program, the students in the intervention group reported less consumption of  sugary beverages daily, in comparison to students in the control group. Also, on average, the intervention group reported eating less snacks than the control group.  The difference, though, was not statistically relevant at the two-year follow-up.

Because the FATaintPHAT intervention was linked to positive short-term effects on diet but not physical activity and sedentary behavior, the authors concluded that the intervention was not effective in changing anthropometric outcome measures, but that a computer-tailored program can have a positive effect on the eating habits of teens in the short-term.

While obese teens often feel healthy, carrying extra weight during adolescence is linked to health risks later in life. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that overweight teen boys are at an increased risk of heart disease in their 30’s. You can read more about the study here.


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