teen girl

Since our family has experienced challenges from both sides of the childhood weight/eating-issues spectrum, this Reuters article caught my eye. The lead paragraph was disquieting:

An intensive obesity-prevention program for Australian girls didn’t lead to any improvements in their diet, physical activity or body weight a year later, according to a new report.

But the further one reads, the reasons for the failure begin to congeal. For starters, one gets the faint impression that the subjects’ actual, individual motivation for losing weight may not have been a factor in being chosen for the study.

[T]hey randomly assigned 357 eighth-grade girls either to go through the intensive program at school or not to get any extra nutrition or exercise help.

At the start of the study, girls in both groups weighed an average of close to 130 pounds, with about four in ten considered overweight or obese.

If subjects were chosen randomly, and only 40% were considered overweight to begin with, what made the researchers think the other 60% would be motivated to significantly change their lifestyles? In fact, what were the motivation levels of the overweight 40%? When it comes to teens, the “Whatever” factor can be a deal-breaker. To wit:

Participation in some of those activities was less than ideal. For example, the girls went to only one-quarter of optional lunchtime exercise sessions, and less than one in ten completed at-home physical activity or nutrition challenges, the researchers reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

At the end of the year, girls in both groups had gained a similar amount of weight and there was no difference in their average body fat — about 33 percent.

The study might have summed up: “Program fails since participants didn’t bother showing up for it.” I’m no research PhD, but under these circumstances, can the findings really be called “findings”? Or should we classify the study results under “Duh”? But I digress.  

Mark the previously quoted stats once more: less than 10% did the homework, emphasis on the word “home”. Which brings us to another unanswered question: did these girls have the full support and encouragement of their parents?

One hates to harp on a theme, but there simply is no “program” (school-based, government-mandated or otherwise) that can by itself solve the pressing concerns of poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and the terrible health risks associated with childhood obesity. It has to start with the parents, in the home, preferably during infancy. There is no quick fix—it takes months, years, maybe even a lifetime for a family to build, model, and mentor good and healthy habits.

And then there’s the uncomfortable reality that by the teen years, kids are making a lot of their own choices, and in many cases, authorities just have to lump it. By far the most amusing quotation gleaned from the article had to be this one:

Preventive medicine researcher Robert Klesges, from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, said that although some anti-obesity programs have helped adults lose weight, the teen population has consistently been a source of frustration for researchers.

Teens a source of frustration for researchers? On behalf of all parents, allow me to say: welcome to our world. 

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...