February 20, 2013  Print

Boys who are obese have a significantly lower than average quality of life according to a study of Sydney teenagers published today in the American Journal of Adolescent Health by researchers from the Westmead Millennium Institute (WMI).

The authors of the study say excess weight amongst teens, particularly in boys, appears to be associated with decreased life satisfaction.

Lead author of the study and senior research fellow at WMI’s Centre for Vision Research, Dr Bamini Gopinath, said the research team were surprised to find that the negative psycho-social impacts of obesity were greater on teenage boys than upon teenage girls.

“Boys who are obese have a significantly reduced quality of life (QOL) as compared to normal weight boys,” said Dr Gopinath, “however, girls in this study who were either overweight or obese did not have significantly different QOL scores as compared to normal weight girls.”

Dr Gopinath says the reasons for the difference are unknown, but she speculates that it might be because of the importance of sport in boys’ social lives.

“If obesity is limiting their participation in sport, it might negatively affect their social functioning and/or physical functioning, both of which are measured as part of the total QOL score.”

The start of the study, in 2004-2005, involved 1,688 teenage schoolchildren attending 21 randomly chosen Sydney schools. When the study began, the children had an average age of 12.7 and they were measured for height, weight, Body Mass Index, percentage of body fat and waist circumference and categorised into five ethnic groups.

At the five-year follow-up, in 2009-2011, the teenagers were aged 17-18. The researchers repeated the physical measurements and also used a questionnaire to assess their QOL.

That questionnaire provided three summary scores; a total QOL score, a physical health score and a psycho-social health summary score.

The researchers also studied how QOL scores changed for teens over the five-year span if they went from being overweight or obese to being of normal weight. 

The researchers also found that youngsters of either sex who lost weight and went from being either overweight or obese into the normal weight range improved with regard to QOL.

“The findings suggest that an unhealthy weight status and excess body fat could negatively impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of adolescents, particularly in boys,” said Dr Gopinath.

“The findings highlight the value of assessing quality of life among adolescents with excess weight in both clinical practiceand research studies.”

The research findings are sourced from the Sydney Childhood Eye Study which is a population-based survey of eye conditions and a range of other health outcomes in schoolchildren living in the Sydney Metro region.

This study was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council during 2003-2009. 

WMI is a close affiliate of the University of Sydney