It’s true that teens often make fun of overweight peers, but a teen’s motivation to lose weight may have nobler underlying reasons than avoiding ridicule or impressing others.
A recent study surveyed around 30 adolescents who successfully lost at least 10 pounds and maintained their weight loss for more than a year.
Contrary to common preconceptions, the main motivation for weight loss among the adolescents was the desire for better health and self-worth, rather than to impress peers.
Diana Rancourt, a USF professor with a doctorate in clinical psychology, collaborated on the study and based her findings from her studies in the university area.
“The adolescents had the intrinsic motivation to lose weight and to encourage changes in their environment,” Rancourt said. “There was a lot of initiative taken by the teens and we expected it to be more of a mutual process and more peer influence.”
People still think of adolescents as being influenced by their family and other friends, so the independence of the teens in the study was an interesting find.
“The teens made the decision to lose weight; it wasn’t their mom and it wasn’t their friends,” Rancourt said.
Though the sample size among students for the study was small, Rancourt said she believes it’s enough to call for a cultural shift encouraging children to care more about their health for health’s sake.
“We have all this opportunity to engage is sedentary behavior, so our best bet is to shift back and make our lives more engaged with the environment around us rather than the virtual environment we have,” Rancourt said, referring to the technology most modern teens have, such as tablets, smartphones and gaming systems.
Nowadays, teens are more likely to be glued to their new iPad tablet or Xbox, rather than go outside.
Rancourt said the study shows a difference between adult weight loss and adolescent weight loss.
“The most popular times according to the study for adolescents to make changes in weight are transitional times,” Rancourt said. “For example, from middle school to high school and high school to college.”
Adolescents go through many transitions and changes in life in a short period of time compared to adults, such as the step up from middle school to high school and even high school to college, so it is important to see how they handle themselves.
“It’s a different developmental period for teens because while the parents buy food for the house, the teens still have the money and autonomy to go to McDonalds,” she said. “There is a weird mix of teen independence and responsibility.”
Therefore, willpower factored heavily into the steps adolescents took toward weight loss by becoming active and eating healthier.
However, Rancourt said that though the adolescents in the study were independent in making decisions, parents did still play a factor in inspiring weight loss.
“Parents can change what’s in the household for food and make the options healthier, but ultimately it must be the adolescent that chooses what they want,” Rancourt said. “The best thing the parents can do is to make sure the teen has healthy options that they want.”
Students surveyed at USF had intrinsic motivation for staying fit, similar to those who lost weight in the study. Joe Mira, a senior at USF, praised the internal satisfaction that comes with staying in shape.
“Staying fit is healthy and helps with mental stability,” Mira said. “I was overweight as a little kid and it’s rewarding because I can set a goal and achieve it and it’s like a journey.”
Dominique Williams, a sophomore, stays in shape for internal reasons as well.
“Diabetes runs in my family, so working out is important so the disease doesn’t catch up to us,” Williams said.
“In high school, I was overweight and dealing with judgmental people,” sophomore Rashaun Roofe said. “I thought I should take action.”