Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Pop Science: Why Adolescent Girls Become Obese

I found this linked off of CNN:

There are lots of reasons why adolescent girls grow obese, but apparently binge-eating and physical inactivity aren't important ones. On the contrary, laxative or diuretic abuse and depression seem to have more major roles in why young girls edge into obesity that lasts into adulthood.
Reasons I hate pop science articles that seek to interpret research:

1) This article suggest that you should be concerned that your depressed patients are at risk of obesity. WRONG. You should be worried that your depressed patients are at risk for DEPRESSION, which is much worse. The day we sit down with Susie and tell her to cheer up or she might get fat is the day I quit medicine.

2) The opening line suggests that food intake and exercise aren't important, but the actual text of the primary resource really says that the studies on this are mixed and limited since people tend to unreliably report food intake and exercise. Laxative use and depression scales are pretty objective though, and more likely to show results.

3) I'm not even going to get into the underrepresentation of African Americans, the exclusion of boys, and the limited geography of the study.

The source of the primary reseach article is: Psychological and Behavioral Risk Factors for Obesity Onset in Adolescent Girls: A Prospective Study. Eric Stice, Katherine Presnell, Heather Shaw, Paul Rohde. Journal of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, April 1, 2005, Vol. 73, Issue 2.


Laura said...

Don't underestimate the importance of emotions to weight gain in girls - HUGE numbers of women comfort-eat. I'm not just talking about the need for ice cream and chocolate after break-ups. Most of these girls using laxatives and diuretics are doing so because they feel awful about the way they look, so they take these extreme measures look better, but they don't get immediate results so they end up eating more to try to forget the girl they see in the mirror. And of course they won't report those calories in the study, because they're too ashamed to admit it even to an anonymous survey. If girls are depressed, no diet and excercise plan is ever going to make them lose weight by itself. Their weight will only improve when they can look in the mirror and say "hey, you're worth all this work I'm going through, and you WILL look better because of it." Unless women believe that they deserve to look beautiful and healthy, they will never ever manage to look that way.

Garrett said...

I think Matt's point is not to underestimate the effect of emotion on weight, but rather to point out that, in a girl who is depressed, we should be a lot more worried about her depression than whether she gains weight or not.