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Study: Obese Youths Fighting Weight the Wrong Way

Although a large number of obese children have the desire to lose weight, they often end up engaging in behaviors counterproductive to that goal, according to a new study being presented today at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

The study, led by Temple University public-health doctoral candidate Clare Lenhart, examines data from nearly 44,000 adolescents who took the Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. Of those students, 13.6 percent, or 5,944 of them, were considered obese.

Lenhart and her colleagues discovered that roughly 75 percent of the obese youths surveyed reported trying to lose weight—undoubtedly a good sign.

The not-so-good sign: Those same youths were often more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, daily soda consumption, and physical inactivity.

For instance, females trying to lose weight were more likely to report that they participated in 60 or more minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. At the same time, those females were more likely to drink soda on a daily basis—and not the diet variety, either.

Males trying to lose weight often reported days of no physical activity, and were more likely to play more than three hours of video games per day. Unless those video games include the Dance Dance Revolution series or Wii Fit, it's relatively safe to guess that they required a minimal amount of physical activity.

"From a health education standpoint, finding out that three-quarters of students who are obese want to lose weight is exactly what we want," said Lenhart. "But the behavior they're engaging in is puzzling; it's counterproductive to what they're trying to do."

Lenhart and her colleagues believe that some of the youths may just not realize how these behaviors are ultimately affecting them.

"For example, among the girls who are exercising, they may not realize that one soda could undo that 30-minute walk they just took," she said.

Lenhart recommended that doctors not just ask if a youth is losing weight; instead, they should ask how the youth is going about losing weight as well. "It could help guide those teens to more productive weight loss activities," she said.

Physical Activity and the "Obesity Gene"

Physical activity can drastically reduce the effect of the "fat mass and obesity associated" (FTO) gene, according to a study out of England published this week.

The study, published in this week's PLoS Medicine, found that the effect of the FTO gene was nearly 30 percent weaker in physically active adults compared with physically inactive adults.

In layman's terms: Even those who are genetically predisposed to obesity can fight the effects by exercising.

The researchers studied data from more than 218,000 adults and demonstrated that typically, those who carried the FTO gene had a higher risk of becoming obese.

However, the FTO gene had 27 percent less of an effect on the obesity risk of the carriers who were physically active compared with those who remained physically dormant.

"Our findings are highly relevant to public health," the authors said in a statement. "They emphasize that physical activity is an effective way of controlling body weight, particularly in individuals with a genetic predisposition towards obesity. Thus, they contrast with the determinist view held by many that genetic influences are unmodifiable."

The authors did not find an interaction between physical activity and the effect of the FTO gene on children and adolescents, however. They partially attributed their nonfinding to a much smaller sample size, although they also noted that a limitation of the body mass index measurement could skew their results.

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