Outlook: Obesity

DECEMBER 12, 2011

Weight Loss Efforts By Teens Are Often Counterproductive

A dolescents looking to shed pounds often engage in activities that are counterproductive to that goal, such as drinking soda after exercise, according to research from Temple University.

In a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, a team of investigators led by Clare Lenhart, MPH, analyzed data from the Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavioral Survey to gain insight into weight struggles, which affect about 14% of teens in Philadelphia.

They found that although most of the obese teens (75%) said they were trying to lose weight, these individuals were also more likely to report smoking. Girls trying to lose weight were more likely to report participating in 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day; however, they were also prone to consume regular soda on a daily basis. Boys who were trying to lose weight were more likely to report that they did not engage in physical activity, and that they played more than 3 hours of video games per 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 Lenhart. “But the behavior they’re engaging in is puzzling; it’s counterproductive to what they’re trying to do.”

Teens may not be aware that their behavior is futile, according to the researchers, who encourage health care providers to help educate them by asking specific questions about how they are trying to lose weight. “It could help guide those teens to more productive weight loss activities,” Lenhart said.


Obese Individuals Unaware of Health Dangers

A surprising percentage of overweight and obese patients who are admitted to hospital emergency departments don’t believe their weight poses a health risk, and many say that physicians have never told them otherwise, according to research from the University of Florida.

In a study presented at the 2011 Scientific Assembly of the American College of Emergency Physicians in October, investigators asked 450 patients who were admitted to an emergency department if they believe their present weight is damaging to their health, and whether a physician or other health professional has ever told them they are overweight. Among those who reported that their weight was unhealthy, only 19% reported discussing it with a health care provider. Of those, only 30% agreed with the assessment.

Lead author Matthew Ryan, MD, PhD, and colleagues found that about 47% of obese and overweight men believed their weight was a problem, and about 62% of obese and overweight women said that their weight was damaging their health. Among obese individuals, approximately 70% said their weight wasn’t good for their health.

Despite the health risks, only 36% of overweight or obese men and 50% of overweight or obese women reported that their physicians had ever discussed weight with them.

“That is disconcerting,” said Keri Gans, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “People need their physician to tell them that if they don’t lose weight they are putting themselves at an increased risk of disease.”


Poor Health Costs Billions in Lost Productivity

Time missed from work due to chronic diseases or being overweight leads to $153 billion in lost productivity every year, according to a report released by Gallup-Healthways in October.

“The high percentages of full-time US workers who have less than ideal health are a significant drain on productivity for US businesses,” stated the report, which found that individuals who have weight or health issues—a number estimated at 86%—miss approximately 450 million extra days of work per year. For the report, surveys of 109,875 fulltime workers who worked at least 30 hours per week between January 2 and October 2 were analyzed. Respondents’ self-reports of their height and weight were used to calculate body mass index. In addition to weight, chronic health conditions included previous diagnosis of myocardial infarction, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression, and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months.

The results showed that full-time workers who were not overweight and did not have a chronic condition averaged about 4 unhealthy days per year, with a small increase for overweight individuals with no chronic conditions. On the other hand, overweight workers with 3 or more chronic health conditions reported an average of about 42 unhealthy days per year. For every 3 unhealthy days, respondents reported missing 1 actual day of work.

Overall, the survey found that more than 30% of workers were overweight and had 1 or 2 chronic health problems, and nearly 18% were overweight and had 3 or more chronic health issues. PT

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