May 14, 2014
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Stigma makes weight loss harder for teens with severe overweight

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A survey of UK teens with obesity and overweight showed that social barriers, stigma, teasing and abuse stand between most heavy teens and weight loss that could improve their overall health.

“The perspectives of young people in the UK, when synthesized across the spectrum of body sizes, paint a picture of a stigmatizing and abusive social world,” wrote Rebecca W. Rees, MA, MSc, FHEA, and colleagues from the EPPI-Centre, department of children and health, Institute of Education, University of London. “Research and policy need to engage young people actively so as to address the social implications of obesity.”

The study surveyed perceptions of attitudes toward body weight in UK teens aged 12 to 18 years. The researchers focused on data that measured perceptions outside of eating-disordered behavior. Data were extracted from 30 studies selected to be part of the meta-analysis, which included data on more than 1,400 teens.

Most teens emphasized personal responsibility as a major influence on weight management, the researchers said. There was a considerable focus on the social implications of obesity rather than on health.

Teens with obesity reported “severe, unrelenting size-related abuse and isolation,” the study researchers said.

“Young people who were already overweight tended to blame themselves for their size. And those who were classified as very overweight said they had been bullied and physically and verbally assaulted, particularly at school,” the researchers said in a press release from BMJ Open. “They endured beatings, kickings, name-calling, deliberate and prolonged isolation by peers, and sniggering/whispering.”

Responses from the teenage study participants indicated that peer and family support is believed to be an important part of weight-loss efforts.

“If you have a problem or if you have just like a total collapse … you’ve got people who will just pick you back up. And I think that’s been the most important thing for me,” one study participant said.

Disclosure: This study was funded in part by the Department of Health, England.