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Helping an Overweight Teen

Updated on April 25, 2013

What is Obesity?

According to the American Heart Association, the obesity epidemic in children continues to grow. The number of children 5 to 17 years of age who were obese was 5 times higher in 2008 to 2009 than in 1973 to 1974. It is estimated that 23.9 million children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, which accounts for about 1/3 of the children in the USA in this age range.

What causes obesity?

When we eat, our digestive system mechanically and chemically breaks down the food into manageable particles to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The body uses the nutrients it needs for cell maintenance, and stores the excess fat. This creates an “energy reserve” for future use. However, when this stored fat in cells and tissues gets too great, there is a risk for certain health problems. Obesity is defined as the condition where the amount of stored fat poses health risks for the individual.

The Center for Disease Control actually uses the BMI index. This is a number determined by a person’s height and weight.

BMI = mass(lbs) / (height(in))2 x 703

Overweight is defined as a BMI in the 85th percentile or above, up to the 95th percentile. Obese is defined as a BMI in the 95th percentile or above.

What are the risks for children?

1) Type 2 diabetes

2) Cardiovascular disease

3) High blood pressure

4) High cholesterol

5) Liver disease

6) Early arthritis and joint issues

7) Depression

8) Poor self image

9) Poor scholastic performance due to peer pressure

10) Sleep problems

How does a parent approach their at-risk teen?

This is a sensitive issue for a teenager, when body image is so important. All high schoolers worry about how they look, what “friend group” they are in, how classmates think of them. Being overweight affects all aspects of their life – their confidence, who they are, what they are capable of. It is critical for parent(s) and child to take a “team” approach to healthier eating habits.


Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. Both obesity and weight lose should be monitored by a health professional who is familiar with all the complications associated with this condition. It is a good idea to initially speak as a group to the doctor, discussing strategies and concerns. After the initial consultation, the teen should have the opportunity to speak to the doctor or nurse practioner privately, helping him/her to feel in control of the process. A plug here for Nurse Practitioners. Often they have the flexibility to spend more time with a patient, and frequently have specialized or at least taken additional classes in nutrition. After a preliminary visit with the doctor, follow-up appointments with the NP may be a good way to go.


Research, research, research!! Read everything you can on the subject of healthy living. Evaluate all the recommendations of your pediatrician and implement as many as possible. As a family, become more involved in physical activity and meal planning. The American Heart Association recommends that all children over the age of 2 should engage in 60 minutes of enjoyable exercise daily. The benefits include reduced blood pressure, less risk of diabetes and some cancers, an increased feeling of well being, and weight control, just to mention a few.


Social media has become the lifeline for teenagers. Unfortunately, like television viewing, it mostly is accomplished sitting or lying down. Iphones, Ipads, Itouches, laptops, kindles have become necessary accessories. As one teenager put it –“Remember when we were in grade school and our math teachers told us to do our math problems by hand because we wouldn’t always have a calculator with us? They were wrong!” All of the electronic devices mentioned above have calculators, and many teens literally have at least one of these with them 24/7. Just as we as parents should limit the amount of time our kids spend watching TV and playing video games, we also need to ease them away from their social media outlets and get them involved in moderately intense physical activity.


Keep a daily log of food intake and exercise. Here is one instance where an electronic device with apps actually does come in handy. There are many free apps that will help you easily record what you eat as well as its nutritional value. Also, these apps will record exercise and activity each day as well. A paper chart works equally as well in my opinion. Here is a sample chart that we use:

35 minutes
15 minutes vollelball

It has been estimated that 80% of children who are obese through childhood will be obese adults. It basically becomes a life sentence unless a concerted effort is put forth by the teen, the family and the pediatrician to commit to a serious change in lifestyle. The good news is, a positive can-do approach will go a long way in motivating not just the child, but the entire family to adopt life-long healthy habits.


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