Health and Science  

Effective Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention for Adolescents

Research has found that behavioral lifestyle interventions for adolescent obesity treatment is critical to the success of any program hoping to make a difference in the lives of obese or overweight teens. A new study shows that adolescents affected by obesity believe interventions should avoid focusing on weight loss and instead promote a healthy lifestyle.

Study co-author Janice Krieger, director of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications STEM Translational Communication Center, and her colleagues asked teens ranging in age from 14 to 19 their perception of intervention initiatives and how they can be made more engaging, as well as their views of existing intervention messaging. Based on their findings from focus groups, the researchers suggest that clinicians and those conducting interventions use alternate terminology to remove the focus on weight and turn it to overall health instead.

According to the research, “adolescents did not want intervention messaging to include ‘weight’ or ‘weight loss’ as it would ‘scare people off,’ ‘make me feel overweight,’ or ‘feel judged.’ Rather, participants described wanting intervention messaging about ‘health,’ ‘bettering yourself,’ and ‘feeling better about yourself.’ A ‘health’ or ‘healthy lifestyle’ focus was seen as wholly comprehensive, addressing both physical and mental healthy living components.”

Also, the teens reported needing a relatable instructor that had previous experience with weight loss. Parent involvement was thought to be optional since some parents were more helpful than others. The researchers did find that adolescents with no family support were less likely to see success within the intervention program. They recommend that future studies or weight loss interventions consider providing parental resources and guidance to support their adolescents when at home.

The teens also identified incentives, activities, and electronic communication as positive ways to build engagement. Future research might look at to what degree these incentives impact the effectiveness of intervention.

Finally, the study found that girls were more likely than boys to want to remain in a same-sex program, but both groups of teen boys and girls felt embarrassed discussing weight, experienced time constraints, judgment from others, and unrealistic intervention expectations. More research should be conducted to determine the feasibility of same-sex intervention programs in terms of logistics and overall effectiveness.

The original article, “Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention Preferences of Adolescents with Overweight/Obesity,” was published online in Childhood Obesity, Vol. 17, No. 3, on April 7, 2021.

 Authors: Alexandra M. Lee, Sarah M. Szurek, Abhaya Dilip, Jackson R. Dillard, Darci R. Miller, Ryan P. Theis, Nuzhat Zaman, Janice Krieger, Lindsay A. Thompson, David M. Janicke, and Michelle I. Cardel

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.

Posted: September 2, 2021
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