With nearly 20 percent of American children classified as obese, obesity is a growing epidemic that is sweeping the country. And, as our children’s waistlines continue expand, Yale Professor Kelly Brownwell writes on TheAtlantic.com: “Today’s children will be the first generation in the history of the country to lead shorter lives than their parents did. There are several contributors to this dim picture, but obesity leads the list.”

But a Temple University study found that overweight teens truly want to lose weight, they just don’t know how to go about successfully doing it. And that knowledge might be key in helping to curtail this troubling trend of obese adolescents.

The researchers analyzed data from the Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavioral Survey of approximately 44,000 adolescents into different types of health behaviors: recent smoking, amount of weekly physical activity, daily soda consumption and hours per day spent playing video games.

The study found that 75 percent of the obese teens reported attempts at losing weight. However, they were also more likely to report smoking. The report also found that females who were trying to lose weight were more likely to report 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day, while at the same time they were likely to drink regular, sugary, caloric soda on a daily basis as well. Another inconsistency the report found was among males who reported trying to lose weight; they were more likely to report having no days of physical activity as well as playing more than three hours of video games each day.

“From a health education standpoint, finding out that three-quarters of students who are obese want to lose weight is exactly what we want,” said research leader Clare Lenhart. “But the behavior they’re engaging in is puzzling; it’s counterproductive to what they’re trying to do.”

Lenhart said the students may not realize that, for as much as they want to get healthy, the steps that they’re taking are actually counter-productive.

“For example, among the girls who are exercising, they may not realize that one soda could undo that 30-minute walk they just took,” she said.

Lenhart said that health care providers should try to take an active role in giving adolescents knowledge of healthy living habits and helping them on their path towards weight loss.

“If a child is going to their pediatrician, and the doctor asks if they’re losing weight, an appropriate follow up question might be, ‘How are you doing that?'” said Lenhart. “It could help guide those teens to more productive weight-loss activities.”

Sources: Temple University, “Marketing of Sugary Drinks to Kids and Teens: As Strong As Ever”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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