Adolescents as a Vulnerable Population for Obesity

The adolescent, aged 12 to 18 years, is in the stage of identity versus role confusion. Life for teens is complex and the transition from the previous stage is tremendous. Teens are expected, and desire, to commence taking charge of their lives and their futures. They make decisions about who they are and how they will fit into the world. Knowledge and experience as these are related to education, health, politics, sex, environment, culture, family, and social relationships, all shape the teen’s identity. If adolescents do not successfully navigate this stage, they experience role confusion (Pantea, 2011). During the stage of adolescence, children attempt to self-identify or gain a sense of who they are and their role in life, while facing the challenges of peer pressure and other environmental factors. It is important to educate adolescence on the importance of maintaining self-strength to avoid the influence of the society around them. For us, as educators, this may be one of the greatest challenges because we must try to relate to an adolescent in reference to their age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. There are many theories that describe the changes an adolescent may go through; a popular theorists, Sigmund Freud describes both psychosexual as well as personality development throughout childhood.

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Adolescence is a very important time for teaching maintenance of healthy habits. The goal being, to carry these healthy habits into adulthood. Some factors which influence adolescent obesity are, limited access to healthy and affordable foods, environment, food insecurity related to lack of money, poor eating habits, an increase in “screen time” such as television, computers and video games causing a decrease in activity, and food marketing targeting children and adolescents. Adolescents eat more food prepared away from home than in the past. Eating away from home increases calorie consumption, and many of the calories come in the form of saturated fats. Bottom line, kids are eating more unhealthy foods and they are a lot less active. “In 2009, less than 20 percent of high school students engaged in the recommended amount of physical activity of 60 minutes every day and over 20 percent did not get exercise on any day, though rates vary by gender and race” (Schwartz & Peterson, 2010). In 1992 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the food guide pyramid. This basic drawing explained the pieces of a healthy diet.

The pyramid was widely used in schools, on food labels, in print media and medical brochures. However this was not based on much scientific evidence and did not do much to encourage healthy eating. In 2011 the USDA replaced the pyramid with “My Plate”. This new image is a simple way to remind people to think about food choices when eating a meal. The website is designed to help people of all ages and backgrounds incorporate better eating habits. This site offers meal planning, education, games for children, and also links to other sites that can enhance your knowledge on nutrition (USDA, 2014).

“Epidemiology is the science and practice which describes and explains disease patterns in populations and puts this knowledge to use to improve health” (Bhopal, nd), or the science or study of epidemic. It is the scientific study of disease exploration. According to the CDC the ten steps used in investigating an outbreak of a disease are: 1) Prepare for field work, 2)Establish the existence of an outbreak, 3)Verify the diagnosis, 4)Define and identify cases, 5)Describe and orient the data in terms of time, place, and person, 6)Develop hypotheses, 7)Evaluate hypotheses, 8)Refine hypotheses and carry out additional studies, 9) Implement control and prevention measures, 10) Communicate findings. (Centers for Disease Control, 2004). The epidemiologic triangle is a model that scientist have established for studying health problems. The triangle has three corners called vertices.

The three vertices of the triangle are the agent, host, and environment. In relationship to adolescent obesity, the primary agent influencing adolescent obesity is high caloric food and its availability, the host is the teenager being physically inactive and/or over eating, and the environment is the absence of accessibility to nutritious healthy foods, education resources and support Epidemiologists prefer two types of studies for searching out risk factors for disease, case-control studies and cohort studies. A cohort study would be most suitable for the research of adolescent obesity since it would provide a much better opportunity to establish a cause-effect relationship as it begins with the exposure, high calorie food and moves forward in time to the disease, adolescent obesity, which could be stretched further into adulthood obesity and the diseases related to it. The three levels of epidemiological disease prevention are, primary, secondary and tertiary. The primary level focuses on prevention methods before the person gets the disease. So in the case in adolescent obesity the primary level of prevention would be to develop a plan that is effective both at home and in school for preventing weight gain by promoting healthy eating and exercise habits. Schools possess the opportunity to give students the tools and strategies for them to adopt and continue healthy lifestyles even after they graduate or leave.

Assuring there are strategies in place at schools to promote healthy activities is also crucial to reshaping student’s habits for the better. First, they must build the foundation for healthy activity and eating. Schools need to have a coordinated school health program in place as a guideline. CSHPs provide a systematic approach to promoting Student health and learning. The model promoted by CDC consists of eight components that can strongly influence student health and learning including health education, physical education, and school meals, which are present in most schools (CDC, 2013).

“Active coordination is needed to engage school staff,  implement district/school priority actions assess programs  and policies; create a plan based on data, sound science, and analysis of gaps and redundancies in school health programming; establish goals, and evaluate efforts. A well-coordinated school health program results in an organized set of courses, services, policies and interventions that meet the health and safety needs of all students” (CDC, 2013, pg.3).

So primary prevention reduces both the incidence and prevalence of a disease.

The secondary level focuses on after the disease has occurred but before the person realizes anything is wrong. The goal of secondary prevention is to find and treat disease early. So, say for instance, the adolescent is “a little overweight” or “thick but not fat”, by the time the teenager is recognizing and using these terms, they are most likely well on their way to being classified as obese.

Finally the tertiary level is aimed at those people who already have symptoms of the disease. The goal of tertiary care is to prevent the disease from causing any further health related complications and to perhaps slow down the disease process. There is also a goal of providing better care to the patient and maybe even doing it well enough that the disease can be reversed and the patient can be healthy again. So an obese adolescent who has been diagnosed as obese and is aware they are obese would fall into this category.

In conclusion, epidemiologists study the adolescents and their health problem of obesity and from these studies they try to find the contributing factors to the problem of adolescent obesity. Then the epidemiologist look for a solution to the problem, by perhaps researching ways to eliminate the contributing factors, in hopes of preventing the disease of adolescent obesity before it starts.

Bhopal R nd What is epidemiologyBhopal, R. (nd). What is epidemiology? Retrieved from 20140413220211460672974 Center for Disease Control 2004 Steps for an Outbreak InvestigationCenter for Disease Control (2004, November 17). Steps for an Outbreak Investigation. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013) Adolescent and School Health. Retrieved 04/12/14 from

Pantea, M. (2011). Adolescence. In M. Stange, C. Oyster, & J. Sloan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of

women in today’s world. (1st ed., pp. 26-28). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

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Schwartz S Peterson J 2010 Adolescent Obesity in the Unted StatesSchwartz, S., & Peterson, J. (2010, November). Adolescent Obesity in the United States. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). Choose my plate. Retrieved from

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