One in four obese teenagers do not recognize that they have it and one in three parents do not identify it either., according to a new international study. Obesity is a disease that associated with the development of more than 60 potentially serious health problems. The study showed that 80% of adolescents who consulted a health professional already had at least one comorbidity. According to the organization World Atlas of Obesity by 2030, the 22% of children and adolescents in Argentina will be obese.
“It is really very complex to face any chronic disease such as obesity if the person affected does not recognize it or does not receive the necessary support at home to begin the search for a treatment. The first step is for people, in this case young people, to recognize and accept that they have a chronic disease that requires adequate treatment to improve their health,” he said. Myriam Tonietti, pediatrician and president of the Argentine Nutrition Society (SAN).
The study, called action teens, is a cross-sectional and international study promoted by the Novo Nordisk laboratory with the aim of identifying perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and obstacles to effective obesity management. It was recently presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The consultation included more than 5,000 boys and girls aged 12 to 17 living with obesity, more than 5,000 parents or caregivers and more than 2,000 healthcare professionals.
This study showed that almost Two-thirds of teens see weight loss as their sole responsibility. “It is very important that they know that there are teams of health professionals experienced in the holistic approach to obesity who can accompany them on this path,” added Tonietti.
“It is essential that the trained health teams have information on the perceptions and needs that obese children and young people experience, because it is in this perspective that we can plan the approach, with each of the members, contribute their experience to be able to help them better”, the referred specialist.
A study published in 2020 by the Department of Clinical Sciences, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, found that obese children are three times more likely to die in early adulthood than those without. Additionally, three out of four children living with obesity today will continue to be obese into adulthood, according to research from Middlesex University, The Burroughs, London, 2019.
The Action Teens study also revealed that one in three parents fail to identify obesity in their child and almost half believe it will resolve spontaneouslyalthough there is no medical evidence to support this belief.
This survey records, on an unprecedented scale, perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and potential barriers to effective treatment of adolescent obesity.
“It is necessary to continue to promote changes in the approach to obesity. It is a real unresolved public health challenge that affects the lives of too many young people, that their health and quality of life are seriously affected,” Tonietti said.
The doctor explained that “The results show that teenagers want to improve their health and lose weight. However, one in three don’t feel like it’s something they can discuss with their parents and many are taking to social media for advice. However, the pressure these teens are under is high, with two in three believing losing weight is their responsibility and many of their parents or guardians failing to find the best way to support their children in care” .
Over the past 20 years, the global prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents has doubled going from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5. “This is extremely concerning and at times we are unlikely to find the strategies needed to help lead healthier lifestyles that achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This is a complex challenge that needs to be tackled holistically from multiple spheres, but with the support of medical professionals willing to do so,” added Dr. Tonietti.
In this direction, the study also showed that healthcare professionals need more and better training. The majority of physicians (87%) said they had no significant training in how to treat obesity after medical school.
“The impact of obesity on individuals (children, adolescents and adults), on society and on health systems should not be underestimated. It is essential that governments and society recognize and treat obesity as a disease, so that more teenagers can get the corresponding support to receive the help they need to have a happy and healthy life”, concluded the professor Jason Halford, main author of Action Teens and President of the European Association for the Study of Obesity.
Action Teens is an international study of 5,275 adolescents aged 12 to 17 living with obesity, 5,389 caregivers of obese adolescents and 2,323 healthcare professionals from 10 countries, including Australia, Colombia, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom, aimed at identifying perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and potential barriers to effective obesity treatment. The full conclusions of the study are available upon request.