Facts about obesity in adolescence
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 20% of children ages
6 to 11 in the U.S. are considered overweight and 18% of teens (ages 12 to 19) are
overweight. Many more people are now overweight than 15 years ago. This increase is
seen in both sexes and all ages. Overweight or obese adolescents are more likely to
be overweight or obese adults.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a generalized accumulation of body fat. It is found by measuring both the
height and weight of the adolescent 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 here. Research studies suggest that overweight or obese adolescents may become overweight
or obese adults.
What causes teens to become overweight?
The following are some of the factors that may contribute to overweight adolescents:
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)
Treatment for obesity in children and adolescents involves changes in diet and more
exercise. It is important for parents and the adolescent 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 adolescents 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 adolescent.
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 adolescent's healthcare
At this age, a child or adolescent should follow adult guidelines, and limit fat intake.
Eat a variety of foods that are low in calories. Consider the following:
Your adolescent needs enough calories to maintain his or her energy level, but no
more than he or she can burn off. This is called an energy balance.
If he or she takes in more calories than he or she burns, he or she gains weight.
If he or she takes in fewer calories than he or she burns, he or she loses weight.
If he or she balances the two, he or she maintains his or her weight.
Even when dieting, calories should not be cut back so much that your adolescent's
energy needs are not met. The number of calories your adolescent 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 with the management of obesity?
Do not 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 adolescent to choose from. For example, stock the
refrigerator with apples or yogurt, rather than cookies and chips.
Have the entire family become involved in a healthy eating plan, not just the adolescent
who is overweight.
Encourage activities that promote exercise, such as riding a bike, walking, or skating.
Seek help from your pediatrician or a nutritionist who specializes in children and
adolescents. He or she can help guide you through the management of obesity in your
child in a safe and healthy way.