Friday, September 25, 2009
Image by d.billy.
The idea that adolescent obesity may provide a significant psychological burden is not terribly surprising. Adolescence is difficult under ideal circumstances, the physical stress and social discrimination that often accompany obesity could only be expected to exacerbate this situation (the ridiculously discriminatory advertisement at the top of this post may not be tolerable in today's society, but weight discrimination continues to increase in prevalence, with some arguing that it is now on par with racial discrimination in North America). The latest issue of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity contains two papers examining this important topic - one by Helena Fonseca and colleagues which examines the psychosocial characteristics of lean, overweight, and obese adolescents, while another by Nicole Quinlan examines psychosocial changes following a weight loss intervention. I don't think I could do both studies justice if I combined them into one post, so I will discuss Dr Fonseca's study today, and discuss Dr Quinlan's study next week.
In this new study, Dr Fonseca and colleagues aimed to identify psychosocial and lifestyle behaviors which distinguish overweight and obese teens from their lean peers. The study included 6131 students aged 11-16 who completed questionnaires on their body weight, body image, diet history, life satisfaction, health perception, peer group involvement, happiness, irritability and alcohol use. The results are not surprising. For starters, they report that overweight and obese individuals were more likely to perceive others as making less positive, and more negative comments about them. Further, overweight and obese teens found it more difficult to become involved with their peer group, were more likely to report being unhappy, and more likely to report abusing alcohol. These differences were of a considerable magnitude - 5.3% of obese teens reported being drunk more than 10 times, compared to just 2.4% in the lean group, while the percentage of individuals reporting that they felt irritable on a daily basis in the obese and lean groups were 12.5 and 5.2% respectively.
These results are obviously distressing, but they drive home the message that pediatric obesity is associated with serious psychosocial issues which require appropriate intervention. The authors call for increased attention to the psychological needs of overweight and obese youth, and those concerns seem warranted. On a positive note, as I alluded to earlier, other research in this same issue of IJPO suggests that comprehensive weight loss programs may help alleviate psychosocial problems - but that is a topic for next week. Until then, have a great weekend!
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Fonseca, H., Matos, M., Guerra, A., & Gomes Pedro, J. (2009). Are overweight and obese adolescents different from their peers? International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 4 (3), 166-174 DOI: 10.1080/17477160802464495
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