Student Well-Being

Study: Obese Youths Fighting Weight the Wrong Way

By Bryan Toporek — November 01, 2011 1 min read
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Although a large number of obese children have the desire to lose weight, they often end up engaging in behaviors counterproductive to that goal, according to a new study being presented today at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

The study, led by Temple University public-health doctoral candidate Clare Lenhart, examines data from nearly 44,000 adolescents who took the Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. Of those students, 13.6 percent, or 5,944 of them, were considered obese.

Lenhart and her colleagues discovered that roughly 75 percent of the obese youths surveyed reported trying to lose weight—undoubtedly a good sign.

The not-so-good sign: Those same youths were often more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, daily soda consumption, and physical inactivity.

For instance, females trying to lose weight were more likely to report that they participated in 60 or more minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. At the same time, those females were more likely to drink soda on a daily basis—and not the diet variety, either.

Males trying to lose weight often reported days of no physical activity, and were more likely to play more than three hours of video games per day. Unless those video games include the Dance Dance Revolution series or Wii Fit, it’s relatively safe to guess that they required a minimal amount of physical activity.

“From a health education standpoint, finding out that three-quarters of students who are obese want to lose weight is exactly what we want,” said Lenhart. “But the behavior they’re engaging in is puzzling; it’s counterproductive to what they’re trying to do.”

Lenhart and her colleagues believe that some of the youths may just not realize how these behaviors are ultimately affecting them.

“For example, among the girls who are exercising, they may not realize that one soda could undo that 30-minute walk they just took,” she said.

Lenhart recommended that doctors not just ask if a youth is losing weight; instead, they should ask .

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.