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Psychosocial changes in overweight youth attending weight loss camp

Monday, October 05, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders

Picture by Theslowlane.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgTwo weeks ago I wrote a post on the psychosocial problems that are often encountered by overweight and obese youth.  Today, I would like to discuss a new paper in the same issue of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity which examines psychosocial changes in overweight youth following attendance at a weight loss camp.

The study was performed by Dr Nicole Quinlan and colleagues at Duke University, and followed 130 overweight and obese youth who spent their summer at a weight loss camp in the United States.  The treatment program included a balanced diet, nutrition classes, extensive physical activity (5 hours/day, which seems excessive, but that's a topic for another post) and weekly group counseling sessions.  Before and after their stay, campers completed questionnaires on their attitudes towards body weight and dieting, self-esteem and quality of life, as well as having their height and weight measured by camp staff.

After an average stay of 4.3 weeks, campers lost an average of 7.5 kg, which was equivalent to a BMI reduction of 2.9 kg/m2.  Not surprisingly, campers who spent 7-8 weeks at the camp lost roughly twice as much as those who stayed 3-4 weeks.  While these changes in body weight are to be expected, the really interesting changes were in the psychosocial measures.  Following the camp, participants reported significant reductions in anti-fat attitudes and the value placed on appearance, and significant increases in body-esteem, self-esteem, physical comfort and weight efficacy.  In other words, these campers felt better about themselves, and their ability to control their own body weight.  But what was most interesting?  With the exception of physical comfort "...changes in BMI were not related to post-camp psychosocial outcomes."  In other words, these psychosocial benefits weren't due to the changes in body weight.

Now I find these results to be quite interesting.  The magnitude of the changes weren't huge (most were light to moderate) but they still suggest that comprehensive group weight-loss interventions may ameliorate the psychosocial issues which are often faced by overweight and obese youth.  More importantly, it suggests that weight loss is not a pre-requisite for these benefits, which is a very good thing, since long-term weight loss and weight maintenance can be extremely difficult.  It is promising to know that like physical health, psychosocial health can be improved even without changing body weight.

Travis

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Quinlan, N., Kolotkin, R., Fuemmeler, B., & Costanzo, P. (2009). Psychosocial outcomes in a weight loss camp for overweight youth International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 4 (3), 134-142 DOI: 10.1080/17477160802613372

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2 Response to "Psychosocial changes in overweight youth attending weight loss camp"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    I few weeks back, I believe that there was a post (I believe here, but possibly at "Weighty Matters") in reference to children judging their overall appearance and weight by the size of their peers. I would appear that since there wasn't a large weight loss and that similar results could be expected without any weight loss, that the positive attitudes could be attributed to their new found ability to fit in with their peers. Exercise and physical activity can also release hormones which can make a person feel better, and this coupled with their improved body image in relation to the other camp attendees could both be the sources of this improved attitude.

    Posted on October 5, 2009 at 4:14 PM

     
  2. Anonymous Said,

    I agree with the first comment. It may have been the only time that these kids were free from the constant abuse and judgmental attitude of a peer group. In other words, for once they could relax and just be kids.

    The same thing happened to women who participated in a SEAS (self esteem at any size) group compared to a traditional dieting group. The women in the SEAS group had better numbers (blood pressure, etc.), were more likely to stick with exercise and healthy eating, and felt better about themselves even though they may or may not have lost weight. (referenced in the book, The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos)

    Posted on October 6, 2009 at 11:02 AM

     

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.

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