HEADLINES Published January21, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Health Not Vanity: Overweight Teens Who Lose Weight Do It for Good Reasons

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Teens lose weight for healthy reasons, not just to look good.
(Photo : John Moore, Getty Images)

Teens that lose weight for reasons of health appear to be more likely to keep the weight off. Wanting to lose weight for the sake of long-term health or self-improvement is an intrinsic reason, and intrinsic reasons may work better at keeping weight off than extrinsic reasons, such as to look good for an event, to please other people, or for general social acceptance.

This finding comes from information about 40 teenaged participants chosen from the Adolescent Weight Control Registry who were interviewed by researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. These teens had lost at least 10 pounds-they actually lost an average of 30 pounds--and had kept the weight off for at least a year. The goal of the study was to look at behavioral strategies, psychological factors, and social contribution to weight loss and keeping the weight off in teens.

Sixty percent said that their health was their reason for losing weight, an intrinsic reason, whereas 43% said that being accepted by their peers or friends was a factor. In addition to reasons such as health and a better self image, the teens who took part in the study said that life transitions, such as starting high school, were important motivators. Getting encouragement and support from friends and parents was also seen as important.

The most commonly used weight loss program consisted just of watching their diet and increasing physical activity levels.

"Most parents have the view that their teen is largely influenced by other people's perceptions of them," said Chad Jensen, a psychologist at Brigham Young and an author of the study. "Our findings suggest that teens have motivations that are more intrinsic. One implication is that parents should help to focus their teen on healthy behaviors for the sake of being healthy more than for social acceptance."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every five teens in the United States is obese or overweight.

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