Obesity among young people began to increase in the 1990s. Nowadays, many studies have been published about the topic. We have a better understanding of its causes and health consequences. Obesity among youth increases their risk of developing health problems that can last a lifetime. And because young people are particularly discriminated against because of their physical appearance at this age, their self-esteem can be severely affected. While diet and physical activity are very important to their health, combating the stigma of obesity is equally important.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a health condition that is sometimes considered a disease. One of the tools to assess whether a young person falls into the category of obesity is the body mass index (BMI). This index takes into account the person's height, weight and gender.
BMI alone is not enough to tell if a young person is obese or not. For example, the BMI of people who play high-level sports can be very high. However, these people are not obese. They simply have a lot of muscle mass, which affects their weight.
As its name indicates, the BMI is simply an indicator. It gives a first indication for further testing. This explains why only health personnel can diagnose whether a person is obese or not. The BMI itself is not an accurate enough indicator to make a medical diagnosis.
There are several types of obesity and they do not have the same consequences on health. When fat is distributed under the skin, it does not present major risks to physical health. On the other hand, when the fat is located in the viscera (heart, stomach, liver, etc.), the dangers are greater. Hence the importance of going to see health specialists to be properly evaluated.
What causes obesity among youth?
Obesity is most often multifactorial, which means that there is rarely a single cause. One of the main causes is an excessive consumption of calories in relation to the physical activity performed, but that is not the only factor.
Other factors exist and they can accumulate:
- Being devalued and invalidated
- Being socially isolated
- Being judged by those around you at home, at school, by society, the media, etc.
- Feeling high stress or anxiety
- Having sleep disorders
- Having eating disorders
- Not having access to a balanced diet (due to poverty, reduced access to grocery stores, etc.)
- Living in an era that encourages young people to be sedentary (use of computers, television, video games, smart phones, etc.)
- Having a hereditary predisposition (young people who have one or more obese parents are at greater risk of becoming obese)
- Taking a medical treatment that causes weight gain
- Having hormonal disorders
It is not possible to create a complete list, because there are many reasons. In all cases, diet and physical activity play a very important role. However, we must not neglect the psychological factors that impact the lives of young people.
Problems at school or at home, or low self-esteem are all causes to be concerned about. When emotional and psychological problems are involved, acting only on dietary balance and physical activity is not enough.
What are the consequences of obesity and its stigma?
Young people affected by obesity are more likely to develop health problems, both physical and psychological:
- High blood pressure or heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Disruption of the menstrual cycle
- Bone and joint problems
- Sleep apnea
- Low self-esteem
- Withdrawal into oneself
- The vicious circle of weight gain
It is important to remember that people who are obese can be teased or bullied at any age. Moreover, young people who are stigmatized because of their weight may find themselves eating more under stress. This will lead to further weight gain.
In addition, the fear of being judged by others can lead to less physical activity and avoiding social sports and physical outings. This can also lead to weight gain.
The stigma and discrimination against young people with larger than average bodies creates a vicious cycle that is difficult to break alone. External factors have a strong influence on young people's eating behaviors.
Willpower alone is not enough to lose weight. Young people need to be well supported without being judged.
Rediscovering the desire to move
The context in which a sport is practiced is just as important as the choice of people who supervise young people. The more diverse, fun and supportive the activities are, the more persistent and enjoyable they will be.
To keep physical activity fun, it is sometimes important to leave out the competitive and toxic aspects and encourage variety. Spending time outdoors, camping, biking… these are all activities that keep you moving!
The most important thing is to encourage them to have fun first! And there is no shortage of choices: martial arts, ice skating, in-line skating, soccer, field hockey, badminton, tennis, table tennis, skateboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, snowboarding, volleyball, handball, gymnastics, circus, swimming, etc. Many sport centers offer trial classes for different sports and activities, allowing people to try different ones out in order to discover what encourages them to move.
Having fun with food
From the moment a person thinks they have weight problems, the simple act of eating or even thinking about food can become a source of stress. And yet, everyone has to eat. That is why finding pleasure in eating is the basis of a good balanced diet.
Eating meals together as a family and turning off the screens can make these moments more enjoyable. Mealtime becomes opportunities to talk about their day and provide a space for young people to talk about topics that are important to them.
Cooking homemade meals and limiting frozen or pre-prepared meals as much as possible allows you to eat without having to calculate the calories. The simple fact of preparing meals is enough to balance the weekly menus and avoid excess salt, sugar and fat. In addition, the participation of young people in the preparation of meals also brings excellent results and helps them gain responsibility in a fun setting.
Feeling loved, being physically active and having fun with food is a recipe we can all enjoy!
LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.