What Will A National Teen Weight Loss Registry Teach Us?

Illustration for article titled What Will A National Teen Weight Loss Registry Teach Us?

Sixteen-year-old Meagan Blanchette lost 60 pounds — and kept it off for two years. That's why she's among the first teens included in the Adolescent Weight Control Registry. That's right — a national registry, for teens who lose weight.

The Adolescent Weight Control Registry is a research project "which will compile data from those ages 14 to 20 who have lost at least 10 pounds and kept it off one year."

Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and one of the founders of the registry, explains: "Parents constantly come up to me and say, 'My teenager is overweight,' and ask for my advice. It would be nice to have data with which to answer them. An important goal of this registry is to learn what role parents have played in helping these adolescents achieve their success."

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Meagan's parents had a huge role in her weight loss; her mom drove her to Weight Watchers meetings and cooked healthy meals. But if you've ever seem how closely the U.S. obesity map resembles the U.S. poverty map, then you've got to consider that many parents cannot afford to rive their kids to Weight Watchers, and food choices are often what's cheap — not what's healthy. So will the registry teach us that teens who lose and keep weight off are teens with the means to do so?

Last week we heard about Amitai Etzioni, the sociologist who believes we should focus on kids and obesity, because "body mass like cement: It is rather easy to shape when it is new, but once it settles, it is very resistant to change." What would he think of these teens?

It remains to be seen what the registry reveals, in terms of keys to success. As for Meagan, she admits she feels peer pressure when it comes to food, but: "I haven't eaten a french fry in 2½ years."

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Teen Who Lost Weight Included In New National Registry [USA Today]
Earlier: Dieting May Be A Dead End

[Image via Daria Filimonova/Shutterstock.]

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Oof. Okay, the statement "I haven't eaten a french fry in 2 1/2 years" is only a problem if she's not eating them because she will A. feel like a failure if she does B. truly enjoys them but feels they are not a "safe" food because she might binge or otherwise be a "bad" person if she ate them. Those taken together MIGHT be indicators of disordered thinking about food. But so far all we know is that she cut that out of her diet. So long as she's not afraid of foods with fat in them, I don't have a problem with it. I haven't eaten meat in 15 years and that's not why I have disordered eating issues. I"m just a vegetarian.

I think people also need to remember that compulsive overeating is an eating disorder. If you are eating way beyond your caloric needs every day, if you overeat for emotional reasons that revolve around shame, guilt, or self-hate...if you don't enjoy the food you're eating and the activity creates feelings of self-loathing revolving around food...those, like starving or restricting, would be indicators of a problem. Eating disorders are psychological problems that are usually related to depression, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors. They need treatment. And honestly, no amount of WW is going to do it if it's a full blown eating disorder.

That said, you can't tell that by looking at someone. And I don't have a problem with the registry as its for research. If it's really about rounding up fat people for nefarious purposes, then we have a problem. But studying weight loss in children and teens isn't inherently destructive so long as it's monitored. It's usually how the information is applied that more of a problem.

To be honest, I'm really frustrated with the comments that claim that no one on Jez can talk about weight or obesity or health because there's some hive mind that has some agenda to keep people from talking about it. That's not it. But the truth is, it's a difficult subject. People will take things personally. Because our culture equates weight and worth. There is literally no way to keep that out of the conversation. Just because you think you're just offering up health advice, doesn't mean you aren't inadvertently falling into generalizations and stereotypes and fat phobias. Our culture is riddled with it, it would be hard not to.

And honestly, it is tiring to have to read comment after comment about being "fat" is bad. That's individual, and being "thin" may be just as bad depending on the person. I don't see how we're going to discuss any of this unless people listen and acknowledge the cultural issue here up front. There's a reason people feel defensive about this topic and it shouldn't surprise anyone that you get some reactionary responses. Maybe we should stop assuming that people, especially on here, need to instructed on how to be healthy unless they ask.