How To Treat Teenage Obesity

Fast food and lack of physical exercise can quickly show up on the scale. Increasingly, Americans are becoming overweight at younger and younger ages. Many teenagers are now considered to be obese--determined by their body mass index (BMI)--more than ever before. Studies show that children and teenagers who are obese have a greater chance of becoming obese adults. Additionally, obesity causes both physical and emotional difficulties, so maintaining a healthy body weight is important for everyone. If you believe that your teenage child may be obese, you can calculate their BMI by using the link to the right. After that, check the suggestions below for treating teenage obesity:

  1. See the doctor. It is important to have a check-up before beginning an exercise regimen or making dietary changes for the purpose of weight loss. Schedule a thorough physical exam to evaluate your teenager's overall health status and to rule out any metabolic disorders. Your doctor will be able to offer individualized advice based on your teen's height, weight, and current fitness level.
  2. Ready to go! Once you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor, you can begin to implement changes. It is important that the entire family, and not just the overweight teenager, be involved in fitness and healthy eating. There is no need to single out your teen since it is beneficial for everyone to eat well and stay active.
  3. Do not stock junk food in your house. Be sure that you have an ample supply of fresh produce on hand for snacking, and concentrate meal planning around lean sources of protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit desserts. By making it inconvenient to choose sugary or greasy foods, your teen will be likely to eat less of them. Additionally, by reserving these foods to occasional meals out, your teen will indulge in one serving rather than having constant access to inappropriate food selections.
  4. Beverages matter. Plain water is the best choice, and it is important to drink plenty. Water can get a bit boring, however, so your teenager will likely want additional choices. Sweetened sodas have a lot of empty calories--one popular cola is 150 calories per 12 ounce can. Fruit juice also packs a lot of calories. A better choice would be a fruit juice spritzer made with half the usual amount of juice and an equal amount of plain sparkling water. It has a fruity, soda feel without all the calories. When purchasing milk, choose skim.
  5. Occasional treats are fine for everyone, but try to incorporate them into family activities. For example, take a bike ride to the ice cream parlor or enjoy a walk through the zoo followed by a lunch at your local sandwich shop. If you order lean meats such as turkey or chicken on whole wheat bread, the little indulgence can remain healthy and low calorie. Remember, condiments can add up quickly--learn to substitute mustard for mayonnaise and skip the cheese altogether.
  6. Read labels. Encourage your teenager to become familiar with food packaging labels and to use them as a guideline for making good choices. Calories, fat, sugar, fiber, and other food facts are printed on all packaged foods and beverages--reading them carefully can help your teen to stay within the recommended servings of each.
  7. Cook correctly. Whenever possible, broil or bake, rather than fry. Retrain everyone's taste buds (not just your teenager's) to appreciate foods in their simplest form. It takes a bit of time, but once they are a regular part of your teenager's diet, he will learn to enjoy veggies without a butter or cheese sauce, lean sandwiches and wraps, fresh fruit, and salads without gobs of high-fat dressings. Learn to use spices and fresh herbs to enhance the flavor of your family's food, rather than relying on fat and sugar.
  8. Eat together. Studies show that people tend to consume fewer calories during a relaxed family meal than when they eat in front of the television or computer. Slowing down the pace of eating allows your brain to get the signal that you are full (this takes about 20 minutes) so that you can feel satisfied while taking in smaller meals.
  9. Go to school. Request that your child's school stock only healthy foods and beverages in their vending machines and in their cafeteria. Many school vending machines and lunch lines offer soda, chips, and candies, contributing to the problem of teenage obesity. If necessary, unite with other parents and request time to speak at a school board meeting.
  10. Get moving. Becoming physically active is good for the waistline as well as for your teen's overall health. Simple activities like walking or bike riding can make a big difference. As your teenager begins to get into better shape and experiences increased body confidence, encourage participation in school athletics.
  11. Share your stories. Talk to your teenager about your own struggles with weight or other issues that you have had. It can really be beneficial for her to know that everyone has difficulties at times. Stress that there are workable solutions, and that you will help her to find them.
  12. Be supportive. Losing weight and getting into shape requires an overhaul of long-standing habits, which can be difficult. Never berate or belittle your teenager about his weight (or for any reason). Approach the weight as a health issue, not as a personal fault or weakness.
  13. Never use food as a punishment or a reward. Teach your teens to look at food for what it really is--fuel for their bodies.
  14. Allow sufficient time. It is not healthy or preferable to lose weight too rapidly, so be patient and encourage your teen to be patient as well. Ideally, the process of dropping excess pounds and improving fitness will help to establish life long habits of making sound dietary choices and incorporating activity into a daily routine. Your teenager did not become obese overnight--the solution will take time, too.

  15. Find out the whys. People become obese for a variety of reasons, from merely establishing poor habits to using food as a way to alleviate boredom and reduce stress. Talk to your teenager about her feelings. If she exhibits signs of depression or anxiety, be sure to seek professional guidance.
  16. Look in the mirror. Often, poor exercise and dietary habits are a family problem. Even if you are not overweight, it's a good idea to analyze your food choices and fitness level. If you feel it would be beneficial for you to make some improvements, maybe you could partner with your teenager to help each other reach your goals.
  17. Get help. There are a number of good books to help you formulate a plan with your teenager to get his weight under control. A few good choices are Trim Kids, by Melinda S. Southern & T. Kristian Von Almen or Helping Your Child Lose Weight the Healthy Way: A Family Approach to Weight Control, by Judith A. Levine & Linda Bine. Ask your family doctor or favorite bookseller for additional recommendations.
  18. Consider a camp. There are a number of camps designed specifically for helping overweight and obese children and teenagers start on the road to better fitness. They provide opportunities for physical activity, nutritious meals, and a supportive environment for building self-esteem.


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