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Do Overweight Teens Have Lower Healthy Eating and Exercise Motivation?

Researchers compared the levels of healthy eating and exercise motivation in overweight teenagers and normal weight teenagers.

In the USA, around 32% of children and 69% of adults are overweight or obese. This problem is also an increasing public health concern worldwide. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.

Lifestyle modifications such as healthy eating and exercise are the cornerstones of effective weight management. Successful weight loss and maintenance depend on behavior changes, and this, in turn, requires motivation. Most previous studies on motivation for behavior changes in obesity are in adult populations. Additional research is needed in children to provide information about their healthy eating and exercise motivation. This could help in managing weight problems in children and adolescents. Researchers in Los Angeles, USA looked at healthy eating and exercise motivation in adolescents attending pediatric clinics. They recently published their findings in BMC Obesity.

Adolescents (between 13-19 years old) attending UCLA pediatric clinics were invited to participate in a study of motivation to adopt a healthy lifestyle. A total of 60 overweight or obese teenagers and 40 normal weight teenagers were recruited. Information about their height, weight, blood pressure, and past medical history were recorded from their medical charts. In addition, information was collected about their social background and lifestyle habits (such as hours spent doing physical activity, hours screen time, number of sodas per day, number of restaurant or home-cooked meals).

The participants were asked to complete three questionnaires related to motivation. The Treatment Self-Regulation Questionnaire examines different types of motivation – self-motivation, motivation due to external factors such as peer-pressure, and “amotivation”, which is a lack of motivation to participate in an activity. The Perceived Competence Scale and General Self Efficacy Scales are complementary questionnaires examining an individual’s perception of their ability to achieve a goal even when faced with challenges. Scores from the three questionnaires were compared between the overweight/obese and normal-weight teenagers.

The overweight/obese teenagers showed similar self-motivation scores to normal weight teenagers to pursue healthy eating and exercise. They had significantly higher external motivation scores to pursue a healthy eating, and a trend towards higher scores to pursue exercise. There was no significant difference in perceived competence to pursue healthy eating and exercise between the two groups.

Assessing an individual’s motivation and confidence is essential in helping them to make healthy lifestyle changes. This study showed that overweight/obese teenagers had similar self-motivation and a higher external motivation for pursuing healthy eating and exercise than normal weight teenagers. Medical professionals should recognize the potential influence of themselves, or an individual’s family and friends in motivating healthy eating and exercise behaviors in overweight and obese teenagers. Each patient’s own motivation and sense of confidence should be assessed to help tailor weight management programs to each individual. Encouragement of self-motivation during counselling may also help to promote the maintenance of healthy behaviors.

Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer 

Reference: Mokhtari S, Grace B, Pak Y, et al. Motivation and perceived competence for healthy eating and exercise among overweight/obese adolescents in comparison to normal weight adolescents. BMC Obesity (2017) 4:36. DOI: 10.1186/s40608-017-0172-2.

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Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie studied medicine at the Universities of Cambridge and London, UK. Whilst in medical practice, she developed an interest in medical writing and moved to a career in medical communications. She worked with companies in London and Hong Kong on a wide variety of medical education projects. Originally from Ireland, Julie is now based in Dublin, where she is a freelance medical writer. She enjoys contributing to the Medical News Bulletin to help provide a source of accurate and clear information about the latest developments in medical research.


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