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Teen Obesity

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
What do I need to know about teen obesity?
Signed: Teen Obesity

Dear Teen Obesity,


Teen Obesity: What You Need To Know


The Institute of Medicine reports that approximately 9 million children in the United States over the age of 6 are considered to be obese.

Such a staggering number has given medical health professionals and parents reason to feel alarmed. But doctors and parents aren’t the only ones who need to be educated about adolescent obesity – teens need to be aware of what puts them at risk to be overweight or obese, what medical complications they might be faced with when obese, and what they can do about this serious issue.


Let’s start with the basics: What does it mean to be “obese”?

A person is considered to be obese if he/she has an abnormally high proportion of body fat. One of the easiest ways to calculate this is by figuring out your Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI calculator factors in a person’s gender, age, height and weight to determine if that person is underweight, in a healthy weight range, overweight, or obese. A person with a BMI in the 25-29 range is considered to be overweight. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered to be obese.


So why is teen obesity on the rise?

·         Widespread availability of fast foods, as well as sugary snacks and beverages found in homes, school cafeterias, and popular teen hang out spots, such as malls and movie theaters.

·         Increased time spent in sedentary activities – meaning activities offering minimal to no physical activity – such as watching t.v., playing video games, and sitting at the computer.

·         Genetic factors

·         Body metabolism

·         Certain cultural practices


What are the health risks for obese teens?

Physical health risks:

·         Adult obesity

·         High blood pressure and high cholesterol

·         Heart disease

·         Type 2 diabetes

·         Kidney disease

·         Sleep apnea

·         Asthma

·         Physical discomfort

Emotional health and psychosocial risks:

·         Depression

·         Low self-esteem

·         Social discrimination by peers and adults

·         Difficulties functioning in academic and social situations

What can be done about teen obesity?

Don’t ignore the problem

·         Don’t ignore it. People often don’t act on this particular problem because they feel it’s something they will simply grow out of, or they will look at it as something that simply runs in the family and is beyond their control. You are only doing a disservice to yourself by brushing off this problem. Overweight and obese teens need to actively address the problem, know that it is not a problem that will simply go away, understand the seriousness of the health risks, and feel empowered that there are things in their control that they can do.

Meet with your doctor:

·         There are medical problems which can influence weight, such as certain thyroid problems. If you are overweight or obese, it would be helpful to meet with your doctor so he/she can rule out any underlying medical illnesses.

·         If lifestyle factors are the main things that need to be addressed, your doctor can help you formulate a plan when it comes to diet and exercise that will allow you to lose weight in a healthy manner.

If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.


Get educated:

Learn about:

·         Reading nutrition labels

·         The food pyramid

·         Healthy food portions

·         Partially hydrogenated oils

·         Healthy vs. unhealthy fats

·         Whole grains vs. more processed carbs

Surround yourself with healthy foods

·         Talk to your parents about the kinds of foods kept in the kitchen and the types of meals prepared each day. Are there enough lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains available, or is the kitchen filled with too many highly processed foods and foods that are high in saturated fats and/or sugars? Work with your parents on stocking up on healthy foods and getting rid of all or most of the “junk” food.

·         Work with your parents on meal-planning. Do you need to help one another with meal-planning, as well as taking turns with the cooking? What will help your family to ensure that meals made at home are more often nutritious than not?

·         Do you need to plan on bringing food with you to school? If the only things appealing to you in your school cafeteria are unhealthy choices, consider bringing your own lunch/snacks to school. Set aside time in the morning or the night before to put something healthy together for yourself.

·         Make fast foods something that you rarely do or never do.

·         Replace sodas and sugary drinks with low-fat milk and water

Get physical

·         Get your heart pumping at least 3 x week with running, walking, swimming, biking, aerobics or anything else that gets your heart rate up. Join a school or town sports team, join a gym, or get a work-out buddy to keep you motivated.

·         Stay active. Being active doesn’t just mean intense exercise that makes you sweat. It’s being on the go and moving around – basically the opposite of what your body is doing while you are lying on the couch watching t.v. or sitting in a chair for hours on the computer. Research is now showing that one of the biggest differences between people who are overweight and those who are able to maintain a healthy weight is the overweight people tend to have 2-3 hours more per day of “couch potato” time. So what can you do to stay more active – run errands with your family or for your family, garden, volunteer, work PT, hang out at the park or mall with your friends where you will be walking around rather than lying around the house?

Signed: TeenHealthFX