Obesity Prevention in Early Adolescence: Student, Parent, and Teacher Views


Thomas G. Power, Professor and Chair, (tompower@wsu.edu), Department of Human Development, Washington State University, 501 Johnson Tower, P.O. Box 644852, Pullman, WA 99164–4852.


BACKGROUND: Obesity is a significant health problem among today's youth; however, most school-based prevention programs in this area have had limited success. Focus groups were conducted with seventh- to eighth-grade students, parents, and teachers to provide insight into the development of a comprehensive program for the prevention of adolescent obesity: the Teen Eating and Activity Mentoring in Schools project (TEAMS).

METHODS: Questions addressed (1) beliefs about the relationship between early adolescent behavior and health; (2) early adolescents' physical activity habits, preferences, influences, and barriers; (3) early adolescents' dietary habits, preferences, influences, and barriers; and (4) recommendations for interventions to promote physical activity and healthy eating in early adolescence.

RESULTS: Qualitative analyses revealed that early adolescents had a good understanding of the relationship between their behavior and their health, although they had a limited understanding of what constitutes healthy eating. Youth participants reported preferences for a number of healthy foods and physical activities, but identified numerous barriers preventing their engagement. The major difference between students, parents, and teachers reflected the operation of the fundamental attribution error with early adolescents attributing their unhealthy behaviors to situational factors, teachers blaming parents, and parents blaming their children.

CONCLUSIONS: Implications of these findings for the development of school-based, integrated strategies for obesity prevention among early adolescents are discussed.