Health and weight

When weight becomes a problem

Many young people we talked to first became aware of their weight becoming a problem during puberty. Steevie who described herself as ‘underweight’ in primary school thought that her body became just too ‘visible’ when in secondary school:

"… I just kind of hit puberty and it went right to my hips, and my bust and it was just like when you are in school, and you’re in a white shirt, and eugh, it was just too noticeable."
People probably become more aware of the way they look during puberty because it’s a time when the body goes through a lot of changes. One of these changes is fat starts to be stored in different  places on the body. In girls, fat starts to settle around the hips, buttocks, thighs and upper arms. In boys it settles around their waist and belly. As body shape changes, an increase in weight can be embarrassing for both boys and girls alike. 
On this page we look at what happened when young people first realised their weight had become a problem (though not everyone saw their weight as a bad thing; see Feeling good about yourself). 
Not everyone had started life as ‘big’, though some described themselves as having been ‘chubby’ or ‘big boned’ since childhood. One mother said her daughter had always eaten too much even when she was a baby. Others used to be slim, then started to gain weight when they reached puberty. A few people had specific medical problems (e.g. polycystic ovary syndrome) which affected their weight (see Health problems associated with being overweight).

Everyone seemed to understand that weight gain happens because of overeating and not taking enough exercise, but many made the point that personal and emotional issues had contributed to their weight problems (see Ideas about causes of weight problems).
Bullying affected many young people we met because it dented their confidence and made them feel alone, isolated from others. Food was always ‘there’ when things went wrong or life changed in some way. Life changes could also affect young people’s weight, for instance parents splitting up or a death in the family (see Bullying). Several young people we spoke to had moved to the UK from overseas which had unsettled them and disrupted their eating and exercise habits.

Several young people said they were overweight because of cultural and family traditions which encouraged them to eat very large quantities of food they didn’t need or particularly want. Several parents we talked to felt guilty about their children’s weight problems and believed they, as parents, had made mistakes with their children’s eating habits.
Most people said that they didn’t notice how much weight they had gained at first. Ella for example realised she was too large when she couldn’t buy clothes from high street shops. Others only realised they had become either too big or larger than others their age when people pointed it out. Some said they knew they were too heavy but friends and family were also overweight and put pressure on each other to stay the same weight. 
Young people said they found it incredibly hurtful when people made comments about their weight such as ‘you’re too fat’ or ‘you’ve put on too much weight’. They also disliked it when parents and friends brought up the subject of their weight or appearance and when it became a subject of general conversation.
Young people talked about how they got different messages about food as they were growing up. Some had been given lots of sweets and cakes when they were younger (usually by grandparents), but were then criticised for eating those things once they were older. Several had been told as children that their weight was nothing more than ‘puppy fat’ which would disappear over time.
The people we spoke to felt that there was no ‘right way’ for other people to comment on their weight and size.  Being made to feel bad about their weight and size (see Low moods and depression) didn’t help. Young people said it would help to know that they could rely on friends, family and teachers for help and encouragement, rather than just criticism. 

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated February 2012.


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