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Overweight teens lose weight for themselves, not peers, BYU study shows

Overweight teens lose weight for themselves, not peers, BYU study shows

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PROVO — Many overweight teenagers struggle to shed weight, but a recent Brigham Young University study reveals one key ingredient for adolescents who do slim down.

The secret lies in intrinsic motivation, meaning those who lose the weight for their own health and benefit are the ones who find success, according to the study, which was published in Childhood Obesity.

“Many people assume teens have more extrinsic motivations, like perception of peers and dissatisfaction with shape and size, but we found that predominantly teens motivations were more intrinsic,” lead author and BYU psychologist Chad Jensen told KSL.com. “They wanted to make sure they avoided some of the consequences in the future.”

Jensen and his students interviewed 40 previously obese or overweight teenagers who lost at least 10 pounds and kept the weight off for a minimum of one year.

More than 60 percent of the teens attributed their personal health as the primary motive for their weight loss, while about 43 percent said peer acceptance was a factor, according to a news release.


"(Parents) sometimes have a hard time finding a balance between being supportive and being overly involved and over intrusive in some ways." Chad Larsen, lead study author.

Although these teens reported losing the weight for themselves rather than for their peers, they credited peer support as a contributing factor to their success.

“Teens consistently endorsed peer support in their success,” Jensen said. “For example, when their peers knew about their weight loss goals, they provided support like selecting restaurants that provided healthy options or praising them for making an effort to change.”

Parental support also positively contributed to the adolescent’s weight loss as long as their involvement was balanced, Jensen said.

Positive support came from parents cooking healthy meals or offering a compliment to their child for making healthy changes, but their involvement crossed a line when they told their child what to eat or criticized their choices.

“I think for me that’s one of the most interesting and most practical findings of the study, because they (parents) sometimes have a hard time finding a balance between being supportive and being overly involved and over intrusive in some ways,” Jensen said.

One of the most popular times to lose weight for some of these teens was during a transition, Jensen said.

“Many of the participants lost weight when they were moving from junior high to high school or from high school to college,” Jensen said. “Those seem to be sensitive periods when teens are more likely to find motivation to lose weight.”

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Megan Marsden Christensen

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