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Health and weight (young people)

Finding advice and information about healthy weight

Where do you turn for advice when you realise that you have a weight problem? People we talked to said that they found out what they needed to do to lose weight from different places including school, the media or family).
 
The GP (Doctor)
People were often reluctant to go to the doctor, because they weren't actually 'ill' and that the GP was always busy seeing people who were really unwell (see also Treatments through GPs, dietitians, counselling and surgery). Mary, a parent, said that it did not seem right to take an overweight child, who was not unwell, to the GPs.

 

Sean says that people are sometimes made to feel guilty and responsible for their weight problem...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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It seems to me that you are doing everything on your own, and motivating yourself to do things.
 
I think that’s why people don’t go to the doctors anyway. Because they, I think society as a whole, tries to make people feel that obesity is like its your fault that, like if you go to the doctors, why shouldn’t you go to the doctors, when you brought this on yourself it’s not like a disease like cancer, where you haven’t got a choice but I think people makes, but it makes people, like obese people think that. It’s their fault for being overweight, so why should people help them to solve a problem that you brought on yourself. I think that’s why most obese people don’t try to seek helped their problem.  
 

There is a lot help available for babies' development but Mary found it difficult to know where to get help for a school age child.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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I mean you get a lot of support if you, you know, for babies and kind of probably toddlers. I mean the health visitors are fantastic but then I think they go to school and, it’s not that you’re in a vacuum as such because I mean there is a school nurse and things but you don’t really have that much contact, contact with them.  I don’t know, be always good I suppose if the kids could have some sort of a yearly check up but just a general check up with parents. I mean probably, that’s probably pie in the sky given numbers and resources and things. But  I think part of the problem with a parent getting help, for example, and I would consider myself a fairly well informed parent, is you just don’t know where to go, you know,  well, who do I? You know, I don’t really. Well, I’m the sort of person I always think, “Well you know, he’s not, he’s not really unwell. I don’t really want to bother the GP sort of, you know,  but who else can I go to? You know, maybe, I don’t know, maybe health centres should have a nutritionist or something attached to them or somebody who deals with those sort of issues or something like that because I certainly felt I, I didn’t know if I was to go and approach anybody like that I think I would have had to do it privately. I wouldn’t have known. I don’t know if you can get a referral to a nutritionist or something, you know, it’s through your GP. I wasn’t kind of aware of, of that sort of thing, you know. 
Holly wouldn’t think of going to the doctor with her weight problem and said, “I hate the doctors” – even though she had started to worry that she might have diabetes. Instead she used the internet to Google her symptoms.

School
Specific school or college projects sometimes helped people find out about food and exercise. Edward used Wikipedia, NHS Direct and his physiology text books to find out about healthy weight.
 

Carrie learnt about healthy weight at school, from the TV and her mum.

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Sex: Female
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If you eat junk food you put on weight and that sort of thing and it’s not healthy. Whereas, and if you eat, you know, your fruit and veg, 5-a-day, that sort of thing, that it’s healthier. And drinking water as opposed to fizzy drinks all the time and that sort of thing is always better and that sort of thing. But I don’t think I actively looked on the Internet or anything like that. I remember doing, we did a few tasks in PE last year and the year before where we did look at, and in science I think as well, and we looked at sort of how much, how many calories you’re taking in versus how many you’re exercising and getting rid of and that sort of thing. Which was quite an interesting, because I, you, you’re not aware of sort of how many calories you actually eat in a day and how many you burn in a day and that sort of thing. I think more activities like that would be, make people more aware of what you’re eating and that sort of thing. Because a lot of the television, there’s programmes where, you know, there’s people that are overweight and you show them how much they’re actually eating, and they’re not aware of it and sort of surprised by how much. Whereas if the people know already, you know, if you take, if you exercise x many hours a way, a day and you’re going to eat this much, then this is what’s going to happen and that sort of thing. Then if, if there’s more awareness, then you can sort of stop going, you know, if you want to, if you don’t want to be overweight you can avoid it.
 
How do you know those? You know, where do, where do those messages come from?
 
I think television programmes. But a lot of it was from my mum. From a very young age she sort of said, you know, “Whenever you’re making a meal you need to make sure that you’ve got more veg. And you need a little bit of meat and a little bit of carbohydrates and that sort of thing.” And that was sort of, I can remember having, talking about the different colours in food when I was about 7 and my mum was preparing, you know, I think it was carrots in the kitchen or something. And she was saying how, you know, you need, you know, colourful food and, you know, carrots and beans and all that sort of thing to make up an entire meal.
Food labels
Everyone seemed familiar with the idea that you should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and avoid too much snacking and ‘junk foods’. But when it came to packaged food and labels, there was more uncertainty. Some had found out that the labels that promote food as being ‘low fat’ can be  misleading if the product (cereals, for example) also contains lots of sugar.
 

Edward has become more suspicious of food packaging since realising that a product can claim to be healthy but have high sugar and salt content.

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Since starting my course it has to be anatomy, physiology text books give you a fair bit. Other good places are Wikipedia, NHS Direct. NHS Direct is actually really good at just laying it out simply. That’s, you know you don’t, to be honest even I find it a bit boring learning about the ins and outs of things like that, it’s so much easier just to have it presented to you quite simply. And I would say stuff like NHS Direct, leaflets as well, ad campaigns, the NHS I think most of the information I’ve ever acquired on sort of diets stuff like that has come in one form or the other from the NHS, be it a doctors’ surgeries, leaflets, health education seminars that kind of thing. I wouldn’t, I think  often, I used to think that, you know, that you could rely on company’s packaging sort of saying like, “Oh it’s low fat, so it’s good.” Or something like that, or, you know, it contains protein or something like that, but you now realise studying at university that although they may be true in some cases, it’s often very clever sort of re-wording stuff like that and ignorance of other things like salt,  sorry, salted peanuts, say high in fibre, high in protein, that’s true but they’re also very high in salt, which they refuse [er] to really put on the package. So  that’s been quite a good thing, those  nutrition wheels you have, which says, you know, the traffic light systems? Those are very very good actually, you start to realise how much crap is in your food basically.
 
If there are two products next door to, lets say we’re doing baked beans, one of them is full of red traffic lights and one’s full of orange, I will go for the orange one, nearly always. So in that respect yes. I wouldn’t say necessarily I would drop the product just ‘cos it’s got one red thing, or, you know, it’s not all green, but it is very, it is very important I think to know what’s in your food. A lot of people are ignorant and that’s just the easiest way to show it really to be honest. And you start to realise as well and I realised this more when I was looking at Uni, there is a ridiculous amount of salt in every product ranging from sort of lasagne sheets to  Marmite, everything. I think that’s a serious, serious, serious problem we have on our hands for heart disease and high blood pressure. So that’s the probably the biggest thing that made me realise and wake up to stuff. ‘Cos even if you’re quite thin you can still have too much salt in your diet and it’s not necessarily a good thing at all. 
Parents
Parents are often keen to encourage their child to eat a healthy diet. Some were able to give good advice but if they, as parents, were also bringing biscuits, cakes, ‘junk food’ and cereals into the house for the rest of the family this really didn’t help. Sometimes young people felt they were under pressure to eat up food at home to avoid waste, or that their parents were not supporting their efforts to control their weight.
 
Awareness campaigns 
Those who had found out about schemes to help young people with weight problems were amazed that these were not more widely advertised. Vicki thought this might be partly because, unlike the single message in some health-related campaigns (e.g. “Don’t take drugs”) messages about weight issues seem more complicated to get across.
 

Vicki says there are too many different messages on weight management.

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Sex: Female
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There’s so many different opinions and views, on weight loss and how to do it, or weight gain if you’re underweight and how to do it. Whereas drugs, there’s, there’s just the one message, stop. Obviously they tell you different, I guess there’d be like, kind of like the whole Frank thing where they’d have different ways of like telling you how to lose the weight, and showing like. What I think they should do is like, they should have like, do like a quiz or something, like, or have an internet page like Frank, and like have a quiz and like a personalised, like a quiz that you personalise, and then like whatever it tallies up to, you go and look and that right, what’s best for you way kind of thing, or something like that just because it’s so difficult like, it’s taken me… what, I’ve been dieting since I was about 10, ‘cos that’s when I first started getting properly like quite big, and noticing it, and its, so it’s taken me 8 years to find a diet that suits me, whereas if there was something like a facility like that, I’d have been able to do it easily, I’d have been, I would probably wouldn’t be in this state now if there was more like awareness about weight.
 
And I mean the fact that it’s glamorised just winds me up, I mean you don’t know much about, I don’t know much about obesity and I am obese like, I know more about being underweight because of how much it’s like spoken about and how popular it is. And its, it’s like a, like  what’s it called, it’s like a phase, no, not a phase, like a craze. Like I was on MySpace and Facebook, and there’s actually groups of anorexic people who get together and talk about what they haven’t eaten. And it disgusting like, my friend for our coursework in Communication Studies did  a piece on anorexia and on size zero model, and she found on Facebook a, like a group, completely glamorising anorexia, and it was a group of anorexics together, taking pictures of themselves and like posting them up and then comparing who’s the slimmest, and if you lost like, if you like put on weight you were like kicked out of the group and stuff. And it was just absolutely terrible. I mean you don’t get groups of fat people doing that do you? Well you get a few, but I just don’t understand like why you’d like do that really, I just oh. I don’t know.  
 

Sean says that there should be healthy weight advertisements on bus stops and places where young...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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So where do you think if there is a weight management programme for young people in your area, where do you think they should advertise those?
 
Well they could advertise it on, because just like bus stops on, they could advertise on bus stops, the local community where young people hang out. They could advertise on buses. They could advertise in local community youth groups. They could advertise by text message… because like young people who signed up to different programmes could like, they could send a message to those young people.
The media
There are a lot of TV programmes about weight but the media often seems more interested in extreme or sensational stories about anorexia or someone who is vastly overweight. Gemma felt that she and her family had been badly misrepresented by the media when they appeared on a TV chat show. She pointed out that the journalists can edit what you say to make it seem like a more sensational story. She was appalled at the consequences for her own life, which involved more bullying and a constant worry that the media were after her. Despite this Gemma feels  it may have been a good thing to appear on the show as it  raised awareness of the problems of bullying and weight.

The internet
Some people said they were worried that information they found on chat rooms and commercial websites might be misleading. Sean said he’d like to be able to check out some of the opinions given on the internet with a professional because it was hard to know what was correct.
 

Some websites try to persuade you to buy expensive equipment to lose weight.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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There’s some websites that like recommend very, like expensive activities that you have to buy, like a machine to do this and a machine to do that. And there are some websites that tell you don’t have to buy a machine you could just do weight at home using what you’ve got and you can use tins to like work on your arms, instead of having to buy like dumb bells at store for like £20 to do it. So there’s some websites that are good with recommending like cost effective activities for you to do and some are not good because they recommend very expensive things that you should buy that you really don’t need at all.
 
How do you feel when you have this sort of websites recommending that you go and buy, and you spend hundreds of pounds on equipment, buying things that someone your age cannot afford?
 
Afford, yes.
 
What do you feel about it?
 
Well kind of upsetting because you feel like if you don’t have the money to buy them, what’s the point of working out because you are not going to lose the weight if you don’t have that, so what’s the point.
 
Sean found it strange that some websites say “that even though you are overweight, you should be like happy in yourself. So I’m thinking like, how could you be happy with something that you’re not, that everybody makes you feel unhappy about?”
 
Some young people were concerned about harmful contacts that can be made online but they also stressed that finding others who are going through similar struggles with weight issues could be a real support.
 

Steevie found the BEAT website helpful and supportive because she understood what the others on the site were going through.

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I think just because I’ve kind of, I notice well all the bad points, I’ve obviously of what I’m doing, whereas before, I just did not see at all. So that’s going wrong. I just think I’m kind of probably on the first step at the moment, I’m just kind of questioning things, and things will probably slowly start to change. And obviously I know I’ve got a long way to go, but they are gradually starting to change and  I go onto the “Beat” website which is quite a good one just because there’s other girls on there just going through the same thing and it’s nice to kind of talk about it and not have to worry about if everyone thinks you’re a bit weird, and you’re on it, so that’s nice.

Does that help?

Yeah it does, you go on there, some, sometimes the girls are like, “Oh this has happened so I’ve had such a big binge, and it’s like four times a day, you would have thought I’d stopped, and, you know, I can’t keep going, and it’s getting a lot more harder to purge” and your sitting there thinking, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” And it just, it is nice. ‘Cause sometimes like you could tell people but if they’re not going through it, then it’s hard to, they don’t really get it.  
Holly explained how she decides which information to take notice of and which to ignore. She checks facts on different types of sites including those that are more ‘medical’. She avoids sites that are overtly trying to sell things or making ludicrous claims about ‘weight loss’ diets. 
 
The National Obesity Forum was also seen as a good source of information on obesity, nutrition, physical activity and health and weight management. It’s also useful to look for websites that have the Information Standard logo. The Information Standard is a scheme from the NHS England that shows that websites contain reliable information about health and social care.

Last reviewed July 2017.
​Last updated July 2017.

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