Reaching for Something

Wondering Why More Teens Aren’t Thinking Weight Loss

We find an odd bit of logic woven into a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics this month. Overweight and obesity is becoming common in teens, so it’s tough for them to think of it as abnormal. So fewer teens are worrying about losing weight. And thus, those adolescents are missing out on opportunities for obesity prevention.

These researchers, led by Daneisha Hawkins, seem to think that teenagers with excess weight and obesity are too satisfied with themselves to try to lose weight.

Generalizing from a Small Sample

However, the authors concede that they should not be generalizing from their “small sample sizes” of NHANES data between 1988 and 2014. And in fact, we have a tough time finding a lot of statistical significance in their findings. Among adolescents with obesity, the authors found no trends with statistical significance for either boys or girls.

For teens with overweight (but not obesity) they assert that the numbers are down between 1988 and 2014. But their data table suggests that the trend was only significant among boys.

Kids These Days!

This research letter seems to be more about making a point than presenting facts. Kids these days lack the motivation they need to lose their excess weight. They’re not ready to do what it takes. These are the messages that come through from this research letter.

However, the real problem here might be a bit of implicit bias. Dissatisfaction with body weight is not the key to preventing obesity. In fact, research suggests youth who regard their own weight as okay – even though they have excess weight or obesity – might have less risk for future weight gain.

Obesity is a physiological condition, not a condition of choice. Choices matter, but only when people have good options. Blaming the kids doesn’t help. Nor does blaming parents. What helps is good, evidence-based obesity care.

Click here for the research letter in JAMA Pediatrics.

Reaching for Something, photograph © Alexandra Galvis / flickr

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Month dd, 2018

4 Responses to “Wondering Why More Teens Aren’t Thinking Weight Loss”

  1. August 23, 2018 at 7:46 pm, Michael said:

    Thanks Ted. As usual – right on the money. Keep up the great work.

    The idea that obesity happens when predisposed people respond normally to an obesogenic environment – and not when they make ‘bad choices’ or have ‘poor motivation’ is my mantra.

    To borrow from Bill Clinton’s campaign; “Its the environment, stupid”.

    The environment is more than just physical and has aspects that are proximal and distal. For some people, attention to the proximal aspects will be sufficient. For most of us it won’t.

    Changing distal aspects of the environment requires legislation and regulation. Whilst obesity is considered by regulators and politicians to be an individual’s responsibility, these changes are unlikely

  2. August 27, 2018 at 6:39 pm, Francisca said:

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    • August 28, 2018 at 3:28 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Francisca!

  3. September 04, 2018 at 10:02 am, Valerie said:

    It seems that the authors would want more teens to diet. But as you point out, dieting is linked with *worse* outcomes. Sigh.