Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adolescents Aged 16–19 in the United States, 2013–2016

Questions for Lead Author Kendra McDow, Health Statistician, of “Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adolescents Aged 16–19 in the United States, 2013–2016.”

Q: What was the most significant finding in your report?

KM: Almost 40% of adolescents 16-19 years old tried to lose weight in the past year and the groups with the highest percentages were girls, Hispanic teens and teens with obesity.


Q: Why do more Hispanic teens attempt to lose weight than other race/ethnic groups?

KM: Yes, that was an interesting finding. Data from another source – the Youth Behavioral Risk Surveillance System (YBRSS) support this finding. In 2017 YBRSS also found that Hispanic teens were more likely to try to lose weight compared to other racial/Hispanic-origin groups. Our study did not look at motivations or the reason why adolescents attempt to lose weight. This a great area for further study!


Q: Do we have any sense of whether the number/percent of teens trying to lose weight has increased or declined over time?

KM: Our study period was from 2013-2016. For this analysis we didn’t look at trends but we started to look into this and found some changes in the way the data were collected over time. We need to explore this more fully. Trend analysis using YRBSS (9th through 12th graders) showed a significant increase in weight loss attempts from 1991 through 2017 (41.8% to 47.1%).


Q: What type of exercising do teens do to lose weight?

KM: Exercise was the most commonly reported method to lose weight. Our study did not specifically look at the type or intensity of exercise adolescents are doing to lose weight. Regular physical activity among adolescents is important for life-long health.


Q: Is there a public health “take home message” here?

KM: Teens are employing multiple methods to lose weight. The vast majority, over 83%, of teens trying to lose weight were exercising. Over half were drinking water and almost half were eating less. And certain populations are more likely to attempt to lose weight, including girls, Hispanic adolescents and adolescents with obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the promotion of healthy weight loss and adoption of healthy eating and physical activity.


Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

KM: We saw that the majority of adolescents who attempted to lose weight used recommended lifestyle modification strategies of healthy eating and exercise. In addition to exercise, drinking more water and eating less, 44.7% of adolescents reported they ate less junk food or fast food and 44.6% ate more fruits, vegetables and salads. This is promising! Of note, 16.5% (1 in 6 adolescents) reported skipping meals as a weight loss method. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages unhealthy weight loss strategies, such as skipping meals and dieting, and encourages healthy eating and physical activity behaviors for adolescents

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