Shifting From Tokenism to Meaningful Adolescent Participation in Research for Obesity Prevention: A Systematic Scoping Review

Mariam Mandoh*, Julie Redfern, Seema Mihrshahi, Hoi Lun Cheng, Philayrath Phongsavan, Stephanie R Partridge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)



Traditionally, adolescent participation in research has been tokenistic. Adolescents are rarely afforded the opportunity to influence decision-making in research designed to prevent obesity. Engaging adolescents in meaningful decision-making may enhance research translation. This review aimed to analyze the current modes and nature of adolescent participation in obesity prevention research decision-making. 


A systematic scoping review was conducted using Arksey and O'Malley's six-stage framework. Six major databases were searched for peer-reviewed primary research studies with adolescent participation related to obesity, physical activity, and diet. Modes of adolescent participation were categorized based on the Lansdown-UNICEF conceptual framework for measuring outcomes of adolescent participation. The framework outlines three modes of meaningful participation: (i) consultative, which involves taking opinions and needs into consideration; (ii) collaborative, where adolescents are partners in the decision-making process; and (iii) adolescent-led participation where adolescents have the capacity to influence the process and outcomes. The degree of involvement in research cycles was classified based on the National Health and Medical Research Council consumer engagement framework. Five stages of the research cycle were determined: identify, design and develop, conduct, analyze and disseminate. 


In total, 126 papers describing 71 unique studies were identified. Of these, 69% (49/71) took place in the USA, and 85% (52/61) were conducted in minority or underserved communities, while males were more likely to be under-represented. In 49% (35/71) of studies, participation was consultative and 9% (6/71) of studies involved an adolescent-led approach. Furthermore, 87% (62/71) of studies incorporated adolescent participation in one or more of the research cycle's formative phases, which involve eliciting views, opinions and idea generation. Only 11% of studies engaged adolescents in all five stages of the research cycle where adolescents could have more influence over the research process. 


Meaningful adolescent participation in the obesity prevention research cycle is limited. Empowering and mobilizing equal partnership with adolescents should be at the forefront of all adolescent-related obesity prevention research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number789535
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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