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Health and weight (young people)

Messages to health professionals

We asked young people what advice they would give health professionals and other professionals on how to help and support young people who have a problem with their weight. Here is what young people have to say:
 
Communication and attitude
 

• Talk to me as a person and don't lecture me.
• Support us.
• Use plain English.
• Be sensitive to our problems and our needs. 
• Pay more attention to the mental health of overweight teenagers and children.
• Provide us with useful advice and information. 
• Take time to listen to us and understand our needs.
• Don’t be condescending towards young people. You are there to help us.
• Be friendly. 
• Be knowledgeable.
• Be sympathetic.
• Don’t be blunt or lose your temper as it could scare us
• But do make sure we understand the health risks of being overweight or obese. 
• Encourage us to achieve little goals at a time.
• Don’t bombard us with information. Leaflets alone are not enough.
• Doctors need to remember that eating disorders affect boys and men too (see our eating disorders section)

 

Be sensitive and supportive with young people who are dealing with a weight problem.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I think if, if they realise that a young person’s got a weight problem, don’t just barge in and straight away and say, “Look I think you’ve got a weight problem.” Be sensitive about it, and it’d be easier for the young person to understand. And I think support the young person in whatever they want to do about it, because only they know what’s gonna work for them. It’s not what other people want and what other people think’ll work for them, it’s about themselves as a person, what they want to do, and what’ll work for them. So just support them in whatever they choose to do.
 
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Health workers need to be tactful. Larger people tend to make you feel more comfortable during...

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Sex: Female
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There’s ways to be more tactful. As you know, the doctors that I’ve had haven’t always been particularly nice about it, and they’re, they’re, I always find that the people that are larger are more nice about it, whereas, you know, one of my dermatologists, ‘cos I have eczema, and she’s you know a large person, and when it comes to appointments that, you know, a full body checks are down to you and her kind of thing, and I think if it was someone else, if it was the other doctor, I’d be really quite concerned about it, but because, because she’s larger and she doesn’t mind it, I don’t know I think, I always think the people that are larger are more friendly about people that are larger. So yeah, there’s ways to say things nicely, and although sometimes you need to go for the approach that says, “You need to do something about your weight now,” there’s, there’s ways to be nice about it.
 

Health professionals should 'be nicely blunt'.

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Sex: Female
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Be nicely blunt. Don’t, don’t go, “Oh sweetie” and beat around the bush because it’s just, it give you excuses to, if you be too nice about it you can all, the person can always think, “Oh actually it’s not that bad because they’re being so nice.” But then if you be too blunt it, it can just scare you off. So you need to find like a kind of that that nice even that kind of perfect in between. That’s why I say you need to be kind of like nicely blunt, so, enough that they can notice okay this is not right and do something about it, but not enough to scare them off. ‘Cos I think I’ve had both, I’ve had on, you know, one occasion with the first ED [eating disorder] clinic, they were just too much too soon, and it completely scared me off. And then the other, the other way where family and the doctors in London are saying oh, it’s not, you know, it’s not that bad, so, you didn’t really do much about it. I think so. You could lose it; it was easy to fob off.
 
Can you give me an example, I mean I don’t know if you’ve been in a situation where they got that balance right, that you can think of?
 
Okay, the nurse in the health centre said, she said to me, “Oh, you’re, you’re too lovely to be suffering like this. And, you know, there’s so many ways you could get help to not do it.” And, “It seems really hard and like its miles and miles away for you to ever get close enough to get in it, but actually it doesn’t have to be that hard, and you don’t have to be going through it, and your life could be normal.” And it was just like if she was kind of so keen to do it maybe I should be too. And also she doesn’t know me that well, and if she kind of still has that drive to get me all these contacts to go and get help for it, then maybe it’s worthwhile doing. So I think she was a perfect in-between. She was blunt, but she was really nice with it so. 
 

Think about our feelings and don’'t patronise us.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Anaan' Don’t be condescending. Don’t… the people you’re talking to…
 
Naz' Professionals.
 
Anaan' … you’re there to help them, not look down at them. And don’t view them as through a microscope. You know, like they are your subject for some, I don’t know, seminar or whatever, they’re real people. Yes, they might be bigger, but they still have feelings, so you need to be respectful of that, and don’t through information at them.
 
Naz' Thank you.
 
Anaan' Do you know what I mean. The people you’re talking to aren’t medical professionals themselves. They are not going to understand something that has all this, you know, medical jargon in it. You need to understand that the people you are talking to, you need to be basically more on their level. Because sometimes I found with doctors is, sometimes they’ve got to the point where they’re almost a little bit inhuman. Not in a bad way, but just they don’t relate to the people they’re talking to any more. I don’t know whether its through years and years of being a doctor but its sort of like they’re not as personal as they were before. So when you’re talking to them, you sometimes feel that they’re not really listening to what you’re saying, you’re just another person walking through the door with another issue and another problem, that they have to get sorted and I think that is really off putting sometimes.
 
And you?
 
Naz' As she said, do not chuck information in people’s faces because I don’t know how to take it in myself, the way they just chucked it in my face. Take time to listen to them properly. What they want to say and discuss it properly as well.
 
Anaan' Yes, listen to what they have to say is really important for a start.
 
Naz' Break, break the information down, bit by bit basically. That's the main thing.

 

 
Anaan' But don’t think you already know what they want, because sometimes you might think you know what they’re asking your help for, but really you don’t. That’s the kind of thing. Just listen. That’s the big, big one, listen to what they’re saying, and really listen, not pretend to listen, or act like you’re listening or anything else. Really listen to what they have to say, and don’t look down on them. 
 
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Doctors need to remember that men can also be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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I think in terms of doctors, I think, you know, it’s important to remember. I think the first I’m going to say, is that, you know, eating disorders I think are very much stereotyped in the sense that I think, you know, we always associate them with young women generally. However, you know there are lots of men out there that have eating disorders of all different ages, backgrounds, sexuality. There is no kind of, kind of typical kind of patient I suppose in a way. So its keeping that in mind. And also just being careful about the fact that, you know, even though, people might see lots of different issues, like depression, anxiety and whatever at the same time, its important to recognize an eating disorder as a problem in some senses, because you know, I think an eating disorder becomes quite life dominating and often can fuel all the other problems they might be experiencing, you know, its very much dependent on the individual obviously, but I think, from speaking to other men through my web site I often find that their eating disorder becomes absorbed into everything else while in fact, you know, its very much what they want to deal with the most is the eating disorder. So I think, yes, I think it was really what I would try to put across to them. 
 
 
Advice and information

• More information and education for young people about the health consequences of being overweight or obese.
• Make young people more aware about anorexia and bulimia.
• Ask us questions that might help us overcome our embarrassment about discussing weight issues.
• Educate and inform us about healthy options so we can understand and help ourselves better.
• Advertise local services for overweight young people at bus stops, in schools and community youth centres.
 

Local services for young people should be advertised in places where they are likely to see them. Texting young people is also a good idea.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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If the service is out there then I will be happy to ask my doctor, but I don’t know feel that there is a service out there that could help, that’s for people like me.
 
So if those services exist in your community, in your area, you are not aware of them?
 
No I am not aware of them.
 
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 texting message… because like young people who signed up to different programmes could like, they could send a message to those young people. 
 

There should be as much awareness about under-eating as there is about over-eating.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I think there needs to be more awareness about like anorexia and bulimia and stuff because there’s loads of stuff about obesity and getting overweight and stuff but I don’t think enough emphasis is put on under-eating at the moment. I think it’s all on over-eating. Because I know over-eating and obesity in kids in Britain at the moment is a big issue but also under-eating is a big issue as well and I don’t think that’s, enough emphasis is put on that.
Services and treatment

• Provide more counselling services for overweight and obese people
• More prevention work is needed. It'll cut down NHS waiting lists in years to come.
• Doctors should visit schools to talk about obesity and healthy living.
• Develop support groups for and by young people
• text young people letting them know where to go for help if affected by weight problems.
• Make sport and exercise facilities free for young people who need to lose weight.
 

Health professionals should worry in equal measure about the mental and physical health of overweight young people.

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Sex: Male
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Physical health is not the only thing that they should be worried about with overweight teenagers and children, it’s the mental health they should be worried about, because without mental health, mental health being sorted you can’t start with the physical health.
 
And so they need to do a lot more work with young people and a lot more counselling services, when you actually talk about their experiences, like, something, something like this, but in a professional environment where you can actually feel and talk about what’s going on in your life. Something it’s so great to do, and it’s so important that behind, behind the smile something could be going seriously wrong, and everyone, everyone has a mask they use at some point to hide the way they’re really feeling, and teenagers seem to have theirs on almost all the time, and it’s adults you need to see, you need to find out what’s going on, going on behind that mask. And that’s generally young people generally, but it can be, it’s even, it can be even worse when your self image is distorted and you feel depressed about yourself and about everything else going on. You can, don’t even start trying to help them with the physical health and not trying to help them lose weight, because you can’t unless they feel happy and they’re going to comfort eat, or they’ll do something else, and they’ll feel really bad, and it’s a vicious circle. You need to help them to break out of the vicious circle and you can’t do that, until they’re feeling happier.
 

Doctors should go into schools to make people aware of the health risks involved in being overweight.

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Sex: Male
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I’m not sure what more doctors and nurses can do really, I mean it’d be nice to see a few more doctors in schools. I haven’t seen, I don’t remember, I’ve never seen a doctor in school actually, only nurses, if them. And that would be a really good thing I think if more GPs just came, just, well not even GPs just say a gastro-intestinal surgeon came in just for an afternoon, say “I’m doing,” you know, “This is what I do. Dah dah dah. The so on and so forth.” And just make people realise this is what will happen, ‘cos I’ve never had a doctor in school in my life, never ever, ever, ever, ever had one, not in, can’t remember from the age of 3 to the age of 18, ever seeing a doctor. First time I met doctors in the learning room was here.
 
But you very rarely will see doctors. I know they may think sort of that it’s more important for them to treat people but prevention will, you know, will really cut down your waiting lists in years to come I’d say. 
 
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The National Health Service should do more preventative work.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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So what do you think, I don’t know, the health service, or doctor’s should do to help people who have concerns about their weight? Young people.
 
I think the health service should like try to, try to stop the problem before it happens, rather than try to solve it after it happens. So like people struggling with their weight should get advice on like what, what food they should be eating. I think there should be clubs for people who needs that little bit of help losing weight, but haven’t got the resources or money to join to the gym or something or hire a personal trainer or so. May be the government could like start clubs to help those people who like, it doesn’t have to be like going to a gym, it could be like, those people getting together in a park or playing tennis or a sport or so on every week, every week or two times a week and so on.
 

The Government needs to do more to encourage young people to take up sport and exercise.

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Sex: Female
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Not really I think it’s up to the Government to like, offer more promotions and kind of things like, it even comes in with global warming kind of thing, how can somebody say walk and then get the bus when the bus costs ten times more than putting a bit of petrol in your car what takes you from door to door kind of thing?
 
And the gym prices are obviously, they are quite, I mean in the, in [place name] up to the age of seventeen you can get into the gym for free so it’s not bad but in other places I do know like, that it costs such, like quite a bitto become a member of a gym and things like that and I think like it would be city, I think is more influenced on young children and young people to day, so if you start life being obese then you’re probably gonna end life being obese kind of thing so I think the Government need to do more in terms of like lowering prices and things like that. 

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated February 2015.

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