An obesity epidemic is ongoing in the United States across all age groups, including teens. The problem persists despite numerous anti-obesity campaigns. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Education, Davis, California, conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a screening program in high schools that alerted parents that their teen had a weight problem.
Dr. Gee explained that in 2003, Arkansas enacted Act 1220, which was one of the first comprehensive legislative initiatives focused on childhood obesity. One important provision of Act 1220 required that all children attending public schools be screened for their body mass index (BMI) and the information sent home to their parents. Since then, eight other states have adopted similar school-based BMI screening programs and notification policies. Despite the widespread adoption and implementation of school-based anti-obesity campaigns, the medical literature contains minimal studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of the programs, particularly for teens. Therefore, the goal of the study was to assess whether teens who had been previously screened in early adolescence, experienced changes in their health outcomes if they continued to receive screening and reporting throughout late adolescence (11th and 12th grades).
The author reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Changes in outcomes from the 10th through the 12th grade were compared between a group of students who received screenings throughout the 11th and 12th grades versus a later comparison group who were exempt from screening and reporting requirements in those two grade levels.
Dr. Gee fund that BMI screening and parental notification during late adolescence plus prior screening and notification during early adolescence did not significantly decrease BMI, the probability of being in a lower weight classification, or exercise and dietary intake behaviors. He concluded that exposing 11th and 12th graders to BMI screening and reporting plus notification that screening would be done in prior grades did not significantly improve teen health outcomes.
Take home message:
This study notes that merely apprising teens of a weight problem is not effective among high school students. This age group is particularly resistant to advice from authorities and parents. Fueling the problem is the fact that, not uncommonly, parents of obese teens also have a weight problem. Thus, programs need to be developed that can overcome these barriers to health education. A weight loss program will not work without a strong personal commitment and motivation. During their teens, many adopt the attitude that they are young and invincible; thus, health problems in later years are way off in the distant future.