Suicide Risk Increases for Overweight Teens

teenage boyRecently the question has been posed to me in various variations of ‘how do we reach the teens’? As a therapist and working closely with INShape Indiana on health promotions, I understand that you cannot work harder for someone than they work for themselves, or you cannot care about their growth more than they do. Doing so would be a fast track to burnout and poor client relationships, which helps no one. I have taken to regularly texting and chatting with a few of my teen cousins to try to make sure I understand their culture and what is motivating to them. (We didn’t have texting when I was a teen!) If we find it difficult to motivate real life change in adults who generally have a wider perspective on the real costs and benefits, how do we reach teenagers and help them develop healthy habits early?

Today I stumbled on this article in my Google Reader which reports that recent research shows a great suicide risk for teens that are overweight or believe that they are, regardless of gender. This doesn’t come as a major surprise to me, and I think it is important to note that self-perception is an important factor. I wonder if the correlation is truly with those who believe themselves to be overweight, regardless of actual BMI. There could be teens who are overweight but do not view themselves that way. With the growing obesity rate in children and adolescents and higher risk of suicide for those that view themselves as overweight, it’s more important than ever that we reach the teens.

It’s developmentally appropriate (normal, expected, and even healthy) for teens to look to their peer group more than adults and even family members for approval and guidance. Adults that tell teens what to do will not reach them.  However, the same developmental stage that causes teens to ignore us, helps them reach each other. As adolescents establish their own identity, they first create groups (cliques) which allows identity to be a multiple-choice rather than essay question. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to look, sound, and act like their peers. Teens can have a lot of influence over each other. If you’re trying to reach teens, you have to have teens on board. How do you get teens to join your team?

2 Responses to Suicide Risk Increases for Overweight Teens

Kirsten says:

The key to getting youth engaged in a community-change program is to get them in at the beginning of an effort.
Want to really understand the issues face by youth? Ask them about it and have a real conversation, without judgment about what it’s like right now to be a young person.
Designing a program about healthy body image? Ask youth to come up with both goals of the program AND the delivery methods.
Offering activities and workshops? Get youth to design AND lead them.

I work at a youth-focused intermediary agency, MCCOY, and we provide training and support to youth-serving organizations and efforts. Our ultimate goal is to help them find ways to effectively engage youth, to have youth making decisions, providing leadership and – at the heart of all of that – being healthy and happy youth and building skills for a productive and connected adulthood.

Brooke says:

Kirsten, thank you for sharing your thoughts and expertise. I’m glad we’ve connected on twitter too! I am a big fan of youth leadership because it is effective and an investment in our future.

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