'Do I care?' Young adults' recalled experiences of early adolescent overweight and obesity: a qualitative study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Feb;37(2):303-8. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.40. Epub 2012 Mar 27.


Objective: Individual behaviour change to reduce obesity requires awareness of, and concern about, weight. This paper therefore describes how young adults, known to have been overweight or obese during early adolescence, recalled early adolescent weight-related awareness and concerns. Associations between recalled concerns and weight-, health- and peer-related survey responses collected during adolescence are also examined.

Design: Qualitative semi-structured interviews with young adults; data compared with responses to self-report questionnaires obtained in adolescence.

Participants: A total of 35 participants, purposively sub-sampled at age 24 from a longitudinal study of a school year cohort, previously surveyed at ages 11, 13 and 15. Physical measures during previous surveys allowed identification of participants with a body mass index (BMI) indicative of overweight or obesity (based on British 1990 growth reference) during early adolescence. Overall, 26 had been obese, of whom 11 had BMI99.6th centile, whereas 9 had been overweight (BMI=95th-97.9th centile).

Measures: Qualitative interview responses describing teenage life, with prompts for school-, social- and health-related concerns. Early adolescent self-report questionnaire data on weight-worries, self-esteem, friends and victimisation (closed questions).

Results: Most, but not all recalled having been aware of their overweight. None referred to themselves as having been obese. None recalled weight-related health worries. Recollection of early adolescent obesity varied from major concerns impacting on much of an individual's life to almost no concern, with little relation to actual severity of overweight. Recalled concerns were not clearly patterned by gender, but young adult males recalling concerns had previously reported more worries about weight, lower self-esteem, fewer friends and more victimisation in early adolescence; no such pattern was seen among females.

Conclusion: The popular image of the unhappy overweight teenager was not borne out. Many obese adolescents, although well aware of their overweight recalled neither major dissatisfaction nor concern. Weight-reduction behaviours are unlikely in such circumstances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Age of Onset
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight Loss
  • Young Adult