Wednesday 16 October 2019

Teens are in denial about scale of their own obesity levels

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A worrying lack of awareness among obese 13-year-olds about being seriously overweight has emerged in the latest study on the lives of young people in Ireland.

Many young teenagers whose measurements indicate that they are obese, mistakenly believe they are "just the right size" or "very or a bit skinny".

Findings from the Growing Up in Ireland research project show that 20pc of 13-year-olds were overweight and a further 6pc were obese, which is in line with other research.

But the problem is compounded by "a certain level of misperception among the 13-year-olds themselves", with 21pc of those found to be obese not understanding their weight status, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

ESRI researcher Professor James William said, generally, Irish 13-year-olds were found to be in good physical health - 76pc reported by their parents as being "very healthy".

But he expressed concern about the "disconnect between the measured Body Mass Index (BMI) and their perception of themselves". The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified obesity as a major public health issue. Prof Williams said being obese and overweight had negative health consequences, including a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but even at 13 there could be respiratory issues.

The findings are contained in the latest in a series based on data gathered on 7,400 young people, to see how they are faring in important areas of their lives as they grow up, and the challenges they face.

The research points to a social divide, with children from more advantaged backgrounds more likely to score higher across a range of measures.

The study, based on interviews with the children and their families, has been tracking the same young people since 2007/08, when they were nine.

The age of 13 is an important stage in life, the point at which young people undergo emotional and physical changes, transition to post-primary school and navigate new relationships.

Physical health is only one of the issues covered in the research, which also gives insights into education, family situations, relationships, emotional well-being and risky behaviours, such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

Key findings include:

:: Girls are significantly more likely than boys to be overweight or obese - 30pc compared with 24pc - and less likely to take part in physical exercise;

:: Most 13-year-olds had a high level of positive interactions with teachers (70pc 'often' or 'very often' praised for their work);

:: Children who had positive interactions with teachers (such as often being praised) or who liked school at nine years of age were more likely to continue to like school when they were 13;

:: 81pc lived in two-parent families, and most had experienced no change in terms of family structure since aged nine, but 5pc changed from two-parent to one-parent and 3pc from one-parent to two-parent families;

:: 13-year-olds from one-parent families and lower-educational backgrounds had poorer socio-emotional well-being;

:: Parental separation between 9 and 13 years of age was associated with double the chance (21pc versus 10pc) of a 13-year-old being classified as being at risk of socio-emotional and behavioural problems;

:: 10pc had been bullied in the three months before their interview and 2pc said they had bullied someone else. Boys and girls were about equally likely to have been bullied;

:: 16pc reported that they had ever had an alcoholic drink, other than a few sips, with a higher rate among boys than girls (17pc and 14pc respectively);

:: 1pc reported having ever used cannabis and 3pc having ever sniffed glue;

The findings underscore how it can be difficult to reverse trends, such as undesirable weight gain, or lagging behind in education, which were evident when the children were nine.

Prof Williams pointed to "significant inequalities", with children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds at a higher risk of poorer outcomes in most categories.

Irish Independent

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