16 Mar Local Obesity Rates May Normalize Unhealthy Weight in Teens
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ashlesha Datar, PhD
Director of Program on Children & Families
USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR)
University of Southern California
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Prior research, including our own work, has suggested that there might be some kind of social contagion or social transmission in obesity. So we wanted to explore that avenue further. In the present study, we showed teens in military families a set of human body figures with varying body sizes and asked them to choose the figure that best captured their ideal body size.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: We found that teens who were located in counties with higher obesity rates were more likely to choose a figure that reflected a larger body size compared to teens who were located in counties with lower obesity rates. A key strength of this study is that teens were exposed to counties with higher or lower obesity rates due to their parent’s assignment to military installations in different counties, creating a natural experiment to study how exposure to obesogenic communities influences their body size norms and risk for obesity.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: One implication of our finding is that higher obesity rates may normalize unhealthy weight in teens and make obesity prevention harder. So perhaps educating teens about unhealthy weight and ways to deal with social pressure and norms surrounding body size can help prevention efforts.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Our study was conducted at a point in time, so in the future it would be important to look at how body size norms and obesity-related behaviors, i.e. diet and exercise behaviors, change over time as teens in military families move from communities with lower to higher obesity rates or vice versa.
Datar A, Mahler A, Nicosia N. Association of Exposure to Communities With High Obesity With Body Type Norms and Obesity Risk Among Teenagers. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(3):e200846. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.0846
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