Teen Obesity

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Obesity is a common eating disorder associated with adolescence. According to MayoClinic.com, the primary cause of obesity in teens is the same as it is for adults: eating too much and getting too little exercise. Obesity is more than an aesthetic issue — it can be detrimental to your child’s physical and social health.


Statistics

Information provided by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation reports that 1999-2000 data indicated that almost 9 million children and teens in the United States — some 15 percent — were overweight. This number had tripled from 1980, a mere decade earlier. Another 15 percent of children and teens were also considered at risk for becoming overweight. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 2003 and 2006 indicated that more than 17 percent of tweens and teens ages 12 to 19 were overweight.

Causes

It’s highly unlikely that your child has an underlying medical problem or genetic disorder that causes him to weigh too much. Obesity may have a hereditary component, as it tends to run in families. However, families tend to share the same eating and lifestyle habits, making it difficult to determine how much of your child’s obesity is genetic and how much is due to the family lifestyle. If your teen is obese, it’s more likely than she’s eating more calories than she burns during the course of a day.

Identifying Obesity

An overweight teen isn’t necessarily obese. An obese teen has body fat in excess, typically weighing 20 percent more than her ideal weight. An overweight teen may have excess weight to include not just fat, but muscle bone and water. It can be difficult for you to determine if your teen’s weight poses a health concern — some kids have larger frames than others. Additionally, the percent of body fat changes during every stage of a child’s life. Using the formula to derive body mass index, or BMI, a screening tool used to assess weight in adults, isn’t helpful on its own. Your child’s BMI must be compared to the BMI of same-age, same-sex peers and assessed by percentile. If your teen falls within the 95th percentile or above, she’s most likely obese.

Dangers of Obesity

Obesity endangers your child’s health. Complications associated with obesity in teens are also the same for adults: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. An overweight teen is more likely to be unhappy, depressed and more at risk for social problems. Overweight children and teens are at risk for becoming victims of bullying as well as turning into bullies themselves.

Helpful Tips

You may not be able to control your teens eating habits away from the home, but you can lead by example. Clear the pantry of unhealthy foods and beverages, such as chips, candy, cookies and soft drinks. Serve healthy meals for the entire family that are rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated and trans fats. Put a limit on the amount of time your teen can spend in front of the computer or television. Organize activities that the entire family can participate in, such as an afternoon bike ride or walk.

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