Dos and Don’ts for Preventing Teen Obesity
Teen obesity is becoming an epidemic. In the past 25 years, the number of teenagers who are considered overweight or obese has tripled.
Dr. Ashish K. John, a pediatrician with Memorial Physician Services’ Koke Mill, said this can largely be attributed to two factors: Healthy eating habits have decreased as more unhealthy, convenience foods have become available, and activity level among children also has decreased.
Obesity is determined by a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI), which factors both weight and height. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also has available a BMI-for-age tool for children that provides a BMI percentile. Anything over the 95th percentile is considered obese. In more simple terms, a person who is more than 20 percent over their ideal weight for their height and age is obese.
Being overweight or obese as a young person can significantly affect a teen’s health later in life, Dr. John said. Among the health risks associated with obesity are:
- High blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lead to cardiovascular disease
- Joint issues
- Breathing and/or sleep problems
A child also can be at risk for developing psychosocial problems, according to the CDC, as these children can be targets of social discrimination.
To help parents of overweight teens adopt healthy habits that will carry them into adulthood, Dr. John offered the following do’s and don’ts:
- Be a good role model. “(Fighting obesity) is a family approach,” Dr. John said. “It’s definitely something that has to happen across the board, with Mom and Dad and the children as well.”
- Shop together. Bring the entire family to the grocery store and pick out healthy snacks and meal ingredients together. “If those are the only foods available at home, that makes it easier,” Dr. John said.
- Cook together and eat together. In the summer, grilling can be a great way to spend family time outside while preparing a healthy meal. “If you have parents who eat healthy, you’ll have children who eat healthy.”
- Be active together. “This time of year, it’s beautiful outside. The more outdoor activities you can do together as a family — go to a park, go hiking, go swimming — there are so many fun things you can do. And doing it as a group definitely makes a huge difference.”
- Limit screen time to less than two hours per day — this includes TV, computer, video games and smartphones. “Helping your kids pick their screen time in advance helps set guidelines and limits that daily time in front of the screen,” Dr. John said.
- Negatively reinforce the child. Positive encouragement is the best way to help a child who may be overweight. “Whatever small goals you set, when those goals are met, the more praise you can heap onto the child definitely makes it so much more encouraging,” Dr. John said.
- Focus on a child’s weight problem. “Boosting self-esteem and celebrating goals is very key.”
For more information on raising a healthy child, Dr. John suggests parents visit the CDC webpage, “Healthy Weight: Tips for Parents,” and the American Academy of Pediatrics webpage, HealthyChildren.org, which has a section devoted to childhood obesity.