A report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that weight loss aspiration is trending with the young. “More U.S. Teenagers Are Trying to Lose Weight Than in Years Past” is the title of a recent piece by Jamie Ducharme. Granted, a lot of kids approach this problem in healthful ways. But many are doing it wrong, which explains the subtitle, “That May Be Reason for Concern.”
The observation that “rising childhood and adolescent obesity rates likely play a part in the increase,” while it may not be totally in the “Well, duh!” category, seems rather obvious. But that is the nature of scientific reports. Authors in that genre are obliged to spell things out in the plainest language, so the people who pay for the information can benefit from it.
Among obese teens, it appears that the proportion of individuals who are actively trying to shed pounds has increased to around 75%. About 30% of obese boys are taking active measures to reduce, while about 45% of the girls are trying. Hispanic teenagers of both genders are more likely to be trying to lose, than their white, black or Asian counterparts.
What an expert says
Ducharme quotes Dr. Sarah Armstrong, to the effect that efforts to place the emphasis on overall health are not succeeding as well as the medical community would hope. This may be because the zeitgeist still generates plenty of social stigma, and teenagers are very sensitive to it. You can tell them that general fitness is the most important thing. You can suggest that, rather than speak in terms of losing weight, they concentrate on merely holding steady and not gaining for a few months. But all they hear is that they are too fat.
Of teenagers interviewed on the subject, four out of five claim to have tried exercise. Dr. Armstrong is a researcher in adolescent obesity at Duke University, and sympathizes with the efforts made by teens, who often sincerely try to cut their food intake.
The thing about adolescents, she points out, is that they are not particularly knowledgeable about methodologies. In pursuit of thinness, they are liable to take things to extremes, and pass from the land of reasonable and prudent measures into the territory of eating disorders and street drugs.
Dr. Armstrong casts her gaze beyond the unhappy patients and sees “the systems and environmental-level drivers of obesity.” She would like for schools to take a more active part, by providing better nutrition options and physical activity programs. The food industry is also regarded with suspicion.
Policy changes, expense does not
Not long after that article was published, Dr. Armstrong appeared in the news again as the lead author of new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics. In October, the institution issued guidance based on studies suggesting that…
[…] bariatric surgery in teens can result in marked weight loss lasting at least several years, with few complications. In many cases, related health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, vanished after surgery.
Even children who have not reached puberty have had weight-loss surgery that is considered successful, or at least better than not having it. Pre-teens account for fewer than 2,000 such operations each year. Dr. Armstrong always stresses the importance of the patient having full understanding of the future consequences which, admittedly, children are unlikely to possess. She says,
It’s a lifelong decision with implications every single day for the rest of your life.
Of course, for most of America’s severely obese young people, the question is moot, because the costs of preparation, surgery, and aftercare can easily mount to $20,000. Even in cases where money is not an obstacle, many pediatricians are still reluctant to recommend surgery. The new published policies, hopefully, will help them form a better picture of what to expect and what to recommend to their patients.
November 7, 2019 By Pat Hartman