Are you an overweight teenager, or do you have one in your family? Well, new research indicates that childhood obesity may be hurting a lot more than just their physical appearance.
Obesity in teenagers is rare in most parts of the world, but it is remarkably common in the United States and Canada. Between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize but one of the most difficult to treat. Overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults unless they adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise.
What is obesity?
Generally, a child is not considered obese until weighing in 10 percent or higher than what is recommended for their height and body type. The ages between 5 and 6, as well as adolescence, are the most common ages for obesity begin. Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. While few extra pounds does not suggest obesity, it may indicate a tendency to gain weight easily and a need for changes in diet and/or exercise.
Certainly one reason for it is our absence of exercise. North American teens lead the world in hours of television watched after school, and it’s not much better when they are not watching TV.
What causes obesity?
Obesity occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns up, but the underlying causes of obesity are complex and include genetic, biological, behavioral and cultural factors. Although certain medical disorders can cause obesity, less than 1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Chances are 50/50 that a child will be obese if one parent is obese. These odds rise to about 80% when both parents are obese.
Obesity in childhood and adolescence can be related to:
- poor eating habits, overeating or binging
- lack of exercise
- family history of obesity
- medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
- medications (steroids)
- stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse)
- family and peer problems
- low self-esteem
- depression or other emotional problems
Our teenagers get virtually no exercise on their way to school, or once they get there. In many jurisdictions the paltry amount of time devoted to physical education is only an option, meaning that it appeals to those who are active anyway, but can be dodged by the slothful. Well, not only are our teenagers falling woefully behind the rest of the world in academic matters, they are as a group, also in dreadful shape. Because adult heart disease actually begins in childhood, it eventually puts their very lives in jeopardy. The obvious answer is to diet, but now it has been shown that overweight teens should also focus more on exercise.
Professor Victor Katch, of the University of Michigan, conducted a study involving thirty six adolescents whose body fat was more than five per cent above normal for their ages. For a period of twenty weeks, half were given a heart healthy diet, and the other half was given the diet plus an exercise routine of fifty minutes three times a week. In the teens that exercised as well as dieted, their blood levels of cholesterol and other blood fats dropped more than twice as much as those who only dieted, and their overall risk improvement for heart disease was three times as good.
Here’s an action tip:
If you have an overweight teenager in your family, or if you are one, please consult your doctor for a full physical exam and cholesterol tests, and an appropriate diet. But, just as importantly, try to incorporate activity into your routine, even if you turn off the TV or video games for an hour each afternoon, and go for a walk.
As a parent, other ways in which you can help your teenager steer clear of obesity are:
- help them start a weight-management program
- change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)
- plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods, avoid junk and fast foods)
- control portions (consume fewer calories)
- know what your child eats at school
- eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer
- do not use food as a reward
- limit snacking
- attend a support group (for instance, Overeaters Anonymous)
Your career may depend on your mental exercises during high school, but your adult health depends on how well you exercise your body.