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Weight Management in Teens

Facts about obesity in teens

According to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, about 9 out of 50 children ages 6 to 11 in the U.S. are considered overweight, and 1 in 5 teens (ages 12 to 19) is overweight. Many more people are now overweight than 15 years ago. This increase is seen in both sexes and all ages. Overweight or obese teens are more likely to be overweight or obese adults.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a generalized excessive accumulation of body fat. It's found by measuring both the height and weight of the teen and calculating the BMI (body mass index). Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or more. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9. You can figure out your child's BMI. Research studies suggest that overweight or obese teens may become overweight or obese adults.

What causes teens to become overweight?

These are some of the factors that may contribute to overweight teens:

  • Easy availability of food, especially high-calorie snack food

  • Parents' attitudes toward food

  • Eating more fast foods

  • Using food as a reward or punishment to change behaviors

  • Lack of exercise

  • TV watching and snacking

  • Not knowing how to eat healthy

  • Heredity (parents' and family members' weight)

  • Medical condition such as hormonal problem (rare)

Weight management

Girl standing on a scale

Treatment for obesity in children and teens involves changes in diet and more exercise. It's important for parents and the teens to be ready and willing to make the change. Generally, weight loss is not recommended for babies and young children who are still growing and developing. The goal of treatment for these children is to maintain their weight while they continue to grow taller. Losing weight may be recommended for obese teens who have completed their growth or weigh more than their healthy adult weight. The following are some of the general guidelines that may be followed in treating your teen.

For children older than 7 years of age

  • The goal is to stay at a baseline weight at first. Then add slow changes in eating and exercise to reach slow weight loss as recommended by your teen's healthcare provider.

  • At this age, a child or teen should follow adult guidelines, and limit fat intake.

  • Eat a variety of foods that are low in calories. Consider the following:

    • Your teen needs enough calories to maintain his or her energy level, but no more than they can burn off. This is called an energy balance.

      • If they take in more calories than they burns, they gain weight.

      • If they take in fewer calories than they burn, they lose weight.

      • If they balances the two, they maintain their weight.

    • Even when dieting, calories should not be cut back so much that your teen's energy needs are not met. The number of calories your teen needs depends mainly on age, gender, and activity level.

  • Eat fewer high-fat foods.

  • Eat more vegetables and fruits.

  • Eat fewer sweets, candy, cookies, chips, and sodas.

  • Change to skim milk and low-fat dairy products.

  • Refer to support groups.

What can I do as parent to help my teen manage obesity?

  • Don't use food as a reward. Use other activities as a reward for good behavior.

  • Have family meal time and snack times.

  • Give only healthy choices for your teen to choose from. For example, stock the refrigerator with apples or yogurt, rather than cookies and chips.

  • Have the whole family become involved in a healthy eating plan, not just the teen who is overweight.

  • Encourage activities that promote exercise, such as riding a bike, walking, or skating.

  • Seek help from your healthcare provider or a nutritionist who specializes in children and teens. They can help guide you through the management of obesity in your child in a safe and healthy way.