Teens who try to lose weight may be going about it the wrong way.
A study presented by a doctoral student at Temple University found that obese students have great interest in weight loss, but this intent can mean increased smoking and soda drinking. Temple University's public health doctoral candidate Clare Lenhart presented data from a 2010 survey of 44,000 students at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association this week.
The results showed that about 75.7% of the obese students attending Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, public high schools sought to lose weight.
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"What I was expecting to see was increased intake of salad or healthy foods," Lenhart said. "In fact, what I found was persistent unhealthy behaviors contrary to weight loss."
Those teenagers who tried to lose weight had increased use of tobacco and soda. It was unclear from the data why the female students drank more non-diet soda when they sought to lose weight.
"In some families, soda is commonplace," Lenhart said. "They might not consider that - it's just a habit."
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According to the data analysis, obese female students were more likely to report at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity than their obese male counterparts who reported an average of three hours of video games a day.
The students may not have a clear idea on proper ways to lose weight, Lenhart said.
She had worked on a previous study that found obese students were at increased risk of dangerous weight loss behaviors such as binge eating, using pills and purging.
Rather than having health educators, nurses and physicians only determine BMI, it would be worthwhile for them to ask follow-up questions about what kind of habits and behaviors the students practice, Lenhart said.
"The fact that three-fourths of the students who are obese report interest in weight loss, it's an incredible opportunity from a public health standpoint," Lenhart said. "If they're demonstrating interest in changing, it's a good first step. It's a matter of helping them and taking the following steps from there."