Children at the Grocery Store

Avoiding the Subject of Adolescent Obesity

Two new studies in Pediatric Obesity point to a common theme. It seems that healthcare providers, parents, and youth all, for various reasons, may be avoiding the subject of adolescent obesity. It is a difficult subject for all three groups – largely because of concerns about emotional well-being. Whether parents and youth talk about or avoid the subject of weight, the dominant concern is emotional well-being. Likewise, healthcare professionals point to confidence and self-esteem as the most important motivation for dealing with obesity.

From both of these studies, one thing is clear – the need for a framing and supporting a more positive framework for concerns about weight that these young people have. Simply avoiding the subject does not eliminate it as a source of concern.

The ACTION Teens Global Study

Jason Halford and colleagues published the massive ACTION Teens global study that they presented at ECO2022. What stands out is the misalignment between parents and caregivers, healthcare providers, and the youth living with obesity themselves. Parents are far more likely to underestimate the problem that adolescents living with obesity face. Roughly half of them presume that their teen will simply “grow out” of obesity, while three quarters of healthcare providers do not share that belief.

Most of these young persons accurately perceive their weight to be high and report concerns about the impact on their health. Simply stated, their top motivation for change is a desire to be more fit, in better shape. But parents seem to underestimate the impact on their child’s health. Halford et al describe the picture that emerges:

“Misalignment between adolescents, caregivers, and HCPs – including caregivers’ underestimation of the impact of obesity on adolescents and HCPs’ misperception of key motivators/barriers for weight loss – suggests a need for improved communication and education.”

Similar Reasons for Engaging or Avoiding the Subject of Weight

Rebecca Puhl and colleagues studied a sample of nearly 4,000 parents and adolescents and their reasons for either engaging in or avoiding conversations about weight.

Teens engaged in conversations simply because of concerns about their health and their weight. But they avoided them because of embarrassment, upset, and a desire to avoid obsessing about the subject.

For parents the motivations were remarkably similar, whether they avoided or engaged in the subject. They want their child to feel good about themselves, their weight, and their bodies. It’s all about emotional well-being for their children.

Needing a Positive Framework

The need for a positive framework to guide engagement on the subject of adolescent obesity is clear. Youth who are living with this condition are well aware of it and have concerns about its implications. What they need is support and help with a positive means for living the healthiest lives they can.

For many of them, simply presuming they will “grow out of it” is not good enough.

Click here for the Halford study and here for the Puhl study. For further perspective on the needs for better obesity care for young persons, click here.

Children at the Grocery Store, painting by August Macke / WikiArt

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August 13, 2022

One Response to “Avoiding the Subject of Adolescent Obesity”

  1. August 13, 2022 at 10:02 am, Allen Browne said:

    Everyone needs to be on the same beam. As you say “Youth who are living with this condition are well aware of it and have concerns about its implications. What they need is support and help with a positive means for living the healthiest lives they can.” We need to keep our eye on the ball.