Obesity in Teenagers

Childhood obesity in the United States has become an increasing problem in recent years. Christina Bethell of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and colleagues analyzed data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health and found the rate of obesity for children 10 to 17 increased from 14.8 percent in 2003 to 16.4 percent in 2007.

Recent research, reported in the Journal Health Affairs, indicates that U.S. children eat an average three snacks a day on top of three regular meals, a finding that could explain why the childhood obesity rate has risen to more than 16 percent. The researchers stated that children snack so often that they are “moving toward constant eating,” and more than 27 percent of calories that American kids take in come from snacks. Sodas, desserts and other junk foods were the main culprits in increasing the caloric intake from snacks.

What is obesity?

A child is considered obese when their weight is 10 percent higher than what is recommended for their height and body type.  Obesity usually begins in adolescence or in childhood between the ages of 5 and 6.  Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.

What causes obesity?

Basically, obesity occurs when a person eats more calories than the body uses.  If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that the children will also be obese.  However, when both parents are obese, the children have an 80 percent chance of being obese.  Although certain medical disorders can cause obesity, less than 1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems.

What are risks and complications of obesity?

There are many risks associated with obesity, including:

  • increased risk of heart disease and cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • breathing problems
  • trouble sleeping

The effects extend beyond health. Child and adolescent obesity is also associated with increased risk of emotional problems.  Teens with weight problems tend to have much lower self-esteem and be less popular with their peers. Christina Bethell of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland found that overweight or obese children were 32 percent more likely to have to repeat a grade in school and 59 percent more likely than normal weight kids to have missed more than two weeks of school.

Ways to manage obesity in children and adolescents include:

Parents have a tremendous amount of influence on their children’s weight. Here are ways parents can help their teen manage obesity:

  • be a good role model for healthy eating and exercising
  • start a weight-management program
  • change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)
  • plan meals and make better food selections (buy less fatty foods, soda, junk and fast foods)
  • limit snacking (offer healthy choices and only 2 snacks per day)
  • control portions and consume less calories
  • increase physical activity (especially walking) and have a more active lifestyle
  • know what your child eats at school
  • eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer
  • do not use food as a reward
  • attend a support group (e.g., Overeaters Anonymous)

Obesity frequently becomes a lifelong issue.  The reason most obese adolescents gain back their lost pounds is that after they have reached their goal, they go back to their old habits of eating poorly and not exercising.  An obese adolescent must therefore learn to eat and enjoy healthy foods in moderate amounts and to exercise regularly to maintain the desired weight as a new lifelong habit.  Parents of an obese child can improve their child’s self esteem by emphasizing the child’s strengths and positive qualities rather than just focusing on their weight problem.

Leave a Reply