Studies of obesity, body image and related health issues among Australian adolescents: how can programs in schools interact with and complement each other?


  • Jennifer O'Dea



This article details recent studies of body weight, obesity, body image and related health issues among Australian adolescents and the ways in which subsequent nutrition and physical activity programs in schools can interact with and complement each other, rather than contradicting or competing with each other. I briefly identify and discuss the commonalities between health promotion, obesity prevention, body image improvement, eating disorder prevention and promotion of physical activity. In this article I present for the first time the findings of a 2009 research study examining the recent barriers to participation in sport, physical education and physical activity from a study of 1000 Australian children and adolescents. These findings illustrate the complex interrelationships between various adolescent health issues and their prevention. Finally, I believe that preventing the co-existing problems of obesity, low physical activity, disordered eating and body image concerns among adolescents is very challenging and requires a thoughtful, careful community involvement strategy. I suggest that it would be a mistake to target any sort of weight loss or weight control message towards adolescent girls, many of whom clearly already have a fear of fatness, an apparent body image problem and low self-esteem. Similarly, I recommend that it would be culturally inappropriate to approach obesity prevention among ethnic groups of overweight or obese adolescents and their families without serious consideration of the potentially harmful, undesirable or culturally inappropriate outcomes. Several facets of prevention need attention when focusing on school based health promotion, nutrition education and body image improvement using a whole-school approach, including school curricula, school ethos, school policies and school–community links.