Adolescents’ Perspectives on the Drivers of Obesity Using a Group Model Building Approach: A South African Perspective

Overweight and obesity increase the risk of a range of poor physiological and psychosocial health outcomes. Previous work with well-defined cohorts has explored the determinants of obesity and employed various methods and measures; however, less is known on the broader societal drivers, beyond individual-level influences, using a systems framework with adolescents. The aim of this study was to explore the drivers of obesity from adolescents’ perspectives using a systems approach through group model building in four South African schools. Group model building was used to generate 4 causal loop diagrams with 62 adolescents aged 16–18 years. These maps were merged into one final map, and the main themes were identified: (i) physical activity and social media use; (ii) physical activity, health-related morbidity, and socio-economic status; (iii) accessibility of unhealthy food and energy intake/body weight; (iv) psychological distress, body weight, and weight-related bullying; and (v) parental involvement and unhealthy food intake. Our study identified meaningful policy-relevant insights into the drivers of adolescent obesity, as described by the young people themselves in a South African context. This approach, both the process of construction and the final visualization, provides a basis for taking a novel approach to prevention and intervention recommendations for adolescent obesity.