Overweight teenagers are at greater risk of social alienation, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction than their slimmer peers.
A new study published in the ‘Journal of Pediatric Psychology’ has found that even if light exercise doesn’t lead to weight-loss, it can significantly improve the mental health of overweight and obese teenagers.
Psychologist Dr Gary Goldfield, who took part in the research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said: “If you can improve your physical activity and fitness even minimally, it can help improve your mental health.”
Over a period of 10 weeks, the Canadian researchers studied 30 overweight and obese teenagers in order to measure the effects of light to moderate exercise on their physical and mental well-being.
The teenagers were asked to cycle for 60 minutes on a stationary bike to music or a video game of their choosing.
At the end of the study, none of the teenagers lost a significant amount of weight, but all reported improvements in their academic performance, social competence and body image.
Bullying and teasing for weight issues can be devastating for young people. Dr Goldfield believes that light exercise could help teenagers who struggle with body image develop a greater level of confidence, which could ultimately improve their emotional well-being and help them to perform better in school and social situations.
He added that the first thing he tells parents of overweight children is “throw away the scales”. Stressing over a number that never seems to budge is counter-productive, and could lead to further feelings of despair and hopelessness.
The thing to do is to tackle the problem from its roots by investigating the relationship the teenager has with food, and how this ties into their emotions and experiences.
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