Adding complexion to the studies of Lajunen et al and Kouvonen et al, this research – conducted in Norway – distinguished between social and cultural participation when considering adolescent obesity. It relied on data collected as part of the HUNT Study. In 1995–7, 8,408 adolescents (13–19 years) completed a comprehensive questionnaire about their lifestyle, health and quality of life and underwent a clinical examination during which anthropometric measurements, including waist circumference, were taken. In 2006–8, 1,450 of these participants were followed up as young adults (24–30 years); they had measurements and blood taken and were genotyped. Cultural activities were taken to imply a mental function that could be performed alone, such as reading a book, listening to or playing music, doing homework or watching television (with the latter understood to be biased by snacking and psychosocial problems), whereas social activities were understood to involve friends. Each activity was awarded a score from one to four, based on frequency (from never to four times a week), and cumulative scores were calculated as a function of the number and frequency of cultural and social activities, dichotomised into highly culturally active and not. In relation to the dependent variable of obesity, account was taken of body mass index, waist circumference, waist-hip ratio and natural development of the body over the life course. Possible confounders – such as physical activity, socio-economic status, pubertal timing and genetic proclivity to obesity – were also included. Linear regression models were used to explore the association between genetic predisposition, body mass and waist circumference, and the interaction between these scores and cultural/social participation was assessed at follow-up.
More girls than boys were found to be engaged in cultural activities, while social activities were equally distributed across the genders. Beyond this, participation in cultural activities was found to have a negative association with obesity in girls in adulthood, whereas participation in social activities was found to have a positive association with obesity in both girls and boys. In other words, participation in social activities increased the tendency towards obesity in girls, whereas participation in cultural activities guarded them against being overweight. These results were amplified when considering those participants who were at the recommended weight when the survey began and when television was excluded as an activity. Interestingly, no interaction was found between social and cultural activities, suggesting that they are independent concepts in relation to fat retention. As in the Kouvonen study, this research suggested that, rather than having a corrective effect, ‘highly culturally active adolescents seemed to be better protected against the effect of obesity-susceptibility genes when measured in young adulthood’ (p. 6).
Among the possible explanations given for the relationship between cultural participation and obesity were healthy lifestyle, stress reduction and the impact of enriched environments upon the production and metabolism of fats.
Koenraad Cuypers, Karin De Ridder, Kirsti Kvaløy, Marguun Skjei Knudtsen, Steinar Krokstad, Jostein Holmen and Turid Lingaas Holmen, ‘Leisure Time Activities in Adolescence in the Presence of Susceptibility Genes for Obesity: Risk or Resilience against Overweight in Adulthood? The HUNT Study’, BMC Public Health, 12, no. 820, 2012.