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New research dispels myths about teenage obesity


New research challenges current public debate about teenage obesity on the grounds that it is too simplistic.

The research, which is due to be published in the journal of Social Science & Medicine, claims that BMI definitions of ‘normal’ weight, overweight and obesity do not take the complexity of feelings that teenagers have about their bodies into account.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and an academic now at the University of Hertfordshire, focused on groups of 13 and 14-year-olds in disadvantaged areas of Eastern Scotland. They were asked to answer a short screening questionnaire and had their height and weight measured, on the basis of which, 36 young people (18 girls and 18 boys) were interviewed, half of ‘normal’ weight and half who were overweight or obese.

They were questioned on the perceived causes of fatness and body size; the professed consequences of being fat; their experiences of attempting to lose weight and their reported interactions with friends and family relating to fatness and dieting.

The findings revealed that, contrary to popular belief, acceptance of body size and shape was common amongst the overweight and obese teenagers interviewed. Many of the teenagers were dismissive of others’ attempts to lose weight, regardless of their size, with most reporting that body size is not important.

Dr. Wendy Wills, one of the researchers who conducted the research, now based at the University of Hertfordshire commented:

“Our findings draw attention to the ways in which the current medicalised view that ‘thin is good’ while ‘fat is bad’ overlooks the perceptions of the population who are thought to be in most need of protection. We found that not all overweight/obese teenagers are bullied; that bodies defined by their BMI as being overweight/obese are not always perceived as fat or unacceptable and that not all teenagers (particularly girls) are striving for thinness.

“We hope that this study, and any further work which arises from it, will inform and challenge current public health debates about teenage obesity.”

Helene Murphy | alfa
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