Maastricht in Early May

ECO2022: A Massive Global Survey of Teen Obesity

The sheer volume of information that emerges from an international conference like ECO2022 is overwhelming. We will be digesting new insights for months after the conference concludes today. One source of insights comes from a massive global survey of teen obesity presented Thursday – ACTION Teens.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise. But this survey tells us that we’re having a problem of communication with teens about obesity. More than half of teens with obesity (56 percent) have never heard from their healthcare providers that they have this condition. More than a third (36 percent) have not even learned from their HCPs that overweight is a health concern for them.

The lead author of this study was Louise Baur. Novo Nordisk funded and supported it. In an elegant understatement, Baur and her co-authors conclude:

“Communication barriers appear to exist between adolescents living with obesity and their
caregivers and healthcare providers.”

A Large Survey Across Ten Countries

This study surveyed 5,275 adolescents living with obesity in ten countries – Australia, Columbia, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, and the UK. From those same countries, researchers also surveyed 5,389 caregivers and 2,323 healthcare providers. This is all cross-sectional research and all of it is self-reports. So a grain of salt comes with the findings. Nonetheless, the study offers helpful insight.

Teens Left on Their Own to Deal with Obesity

Perhaps what stands out the most is that two thirds of teens living with obesity feel like they have to deal with it all alone.  Konstantin Voynikov is a young adult who has recently earned a master’s degree in law. He is also someone who has lived with obesity since the earliest days of his life. Representing ECPO, he reflected on the findings from this study:

“I find so many memories in this study. We saw the involvement of caregivers and the percentage who think they’re not responsible for their child’s obesity. I see my parents in that. And I see how they used to believe it’s up to me. I also see the statistic of how many kids also believe it’s up to them.

“Sixty-five percent of them believe that it is completely their responsibility. Now this is one of the biggest problems for me. Because I believed that, 100 percent. But how can we believe that it’s our responsibility when at 14, as I just told you, I knew nothing. I didn’t know about nutrition, fitness, what’s right to do, and what’s not.”

Left in a Void, Turning to Social Media

This global survey of teen obesity experiences offers a clear picture. We have created a toxic situation for teens facing obesity. Everyone thinks it’s up to the teens to do something. Communication barriers get in the way of good information – not to mention the fact that 87 percent of their healthcare providers have little training on the obesity.

So teens turn to YouTube and social media as their top two sources for information on what to do.

This is what the neglect of obesity care for youth living with obesity has brought. Telling ourselves that we must put everything into prevention has left these kids with nothing for a condition they already have. Thus, they are at the mercy of a toxic social media environment.

This is unconscionable.

Click here for the abstract of this study, which you’ll find on page 142. For further perspective, click here and here.

Maastricht in Early May, photograph by Ted Kyle / Conscienhealth

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


May 7, 2022

2 Responses to “ECO2022: A Massive Global Survey of Teen Obesity”

  1. May 07, 2022 at 7:05 am, Al Lewis said:

    As coincidence would have it, it was my very own uncle who while at the CDC came up with the pediatric growth charts, specifically because he had been spending time in Africa and the charts were used there to see if kids were getting enough calories. Not the reverse.

    His WaPo and other obits made no mention of it, largely because his other contribution to public health was ever so slightly more important: wiping out smallpox.

    This obit leaves out the part where (in addition to leading the team) he was the author of the White Paper that showed it was more cost-effective to wipe it out than vaccinate against it, thus justifying the massive investment in eradication.

    • May 07, 2022 at 7:22 am, Ted said:

      So many details of great importance get lost, but the impact of your uncle, J. Michael Lane is truly impressive.