CLEVELAND, OHIO – Childhood obesity impacts 13.7 million children and teens in the U.S. according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Now, a recent study is showing that in the past 30 years, not only has teen obesity been on the rise, but the percentage of teens trying to lose weight has declined.
The study looked at three different groups of teens between the ages of 16-19 during three different decades.
Researchers found that between the time the first group was surveyed between 1988 and 1994 and when the most recent group was surveyed between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of teens who were overweight and obese climbed from 22 to 34 percent.
At the same time, the number of teens who reported weight-loss efforts declined from about 34 percent to 27 percent.
Cleveland Clinic’s Leslie Heinberg, Ph.D., did not take part in the study, but said experts have known that obesity has been on the rise in our younger population in recent years. However, she said it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause for the changes in behavior shown in the study.
“As our society has gotten bigger, there has been more acceptance of different body sizes – and that’s a good thing,” said Dr. Heinberg. “But the flip-side of that maybe is that there could be less motivation to make changes when changes are needed – when people are having deleterious health-effects because of their weight.”
Dr. Heinberg said while obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., it’s important that teens are using healthy measures for weight control and lifestyle change.
She said doing things like increasing activity, cutting back on eating out, and eating more fruits and vegetables are all healthy ways to try to lose weight.
However, Dr. Heinberg warned that teens looking to lose weight will sometimes engage in skipping meals, using diet pills or disordered eating behaviors, which can all have negative health consequences.
She also pointed out that unlike the teens of 30 years ago, today’s teens have much more information at their fingertips, and not all of that information is helpful.
“There is a lot of diet information out in the world – on the internet, on social media and the vast majority of it is not helpful,” said Dr. Heinberg. “The vast majority of it sets people up for weight re-gain and sets people up for developing bad habits.”
When talking to teens about issues involving weight, Dr. Heinberg said it’s best to keep the conversation centered around healthy habits and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle instead of focusing on weight and numbers.
“If you devalue your body; if you have disparaging thoughts about your body, you’re not going to want to take very good care of it,” she said. “Helping people achieve body acceptance for where they’re at is actually associated with them engaging in more exercise and a healthier diet.”
Complete results of the research can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.