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Obesity in Teens

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 17 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
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Headlines such as, "Obese teens face a health time bomb," have graced the pages of UK newspapers over the last few years. With increasing numbers of adults and teens facing growing waistlines, it brings with it worrying health issues. But what causes obesity and what can you do to help your teen?

According to statistics, nearly one in five 15 year olds is obese and one in five 13 to 16 year olds are overweight. Obesity seems to be a growing problem in today's society, with the main causes considered to be a poor diet, eating too many fatty, sugary and calorie-laden foods and a lack of exercise.

It's not healthy for anyone to be obese, not least teenagers. Obesity can cause problems, both in the present and future, including a risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes (which used to only affect people in their middle ages, but now affects youngsters too), heart disease and cancer.

What's more, it can affect teens psychologically too and may bring with it a range of problems, such as low self-esteem, bullying, negative self-image, loneliness, a lack of self-confidence and depression.

Tackling Obesity

To tackle obesity, teens should be helped to be aware of their diet and exercise habits. Eating healthily and making simple changes, such as eating grilled food instead of fried or cutting out cakes and biscuits, can make all the difference. Some useful tips for making dietary changes include:
  • Changing to healthier cooking oil, such as olive oil, which is packed with monounsaturates - a healthier form of fat.
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables each day.
  • If your teen isn't keen on fruit and veg, try vegetable soups, fruit smoothies or tomato sauces with blended vegetables in.
  • Get to know food labels - check the fat, sugar and salt content before buying.
  • Use low fat margarine instead of butter.
  • Avoid snacking between meals, or change your snacks to healthy options such as carrot sticks, unsalted nuts or seeds.
  • Avoid eating processed food.
  • Eat meals as a family.
  • Have takeaways as an occasional treat.
  • Make your own healthy alternatives to teen favourites, such as pizza or curry.
Even something as seemingly simple as drinking one can of sugary drink each day can have a profound effect on teens weight. A study published in the International Journal of Paediatric Obesity, which looked at the weight of 103 teens, found that drinking a single 330ml can of sugary drink could lead teens to put on 1lb in weight every three to four weeks. This equates to up to a stone in extra weight over a whole year.

Likewise, being more active and incorporating more exercise into daily life is a very positive move, as every bit of movement helps. Even if a teen isn't that into exercise, they can build up more activity by:

  • Walking instead of taking the bus or being driven.
  • Getting off the bus a couple of stops early and walking the rest of the way.
  • Walking up stairs at school or college, instead of taking lifts.
  • Taking up a paper round.
  • Cycling to school or college, instead of being driven.
The last thing teens want to feel is different or isolated because of their weight. Whilst some may be happy to talk openly about their weight issues, others might not, so tread carefully and don't push your teen to talk to you. As a family, you can help most by supporting them and showing willing to do something positive yourself too. That means all taking up healthier eating and all getting involved in additional exercise and activity. If they have your support and encouragement and know that they're not alone in trying to make changes, it can be very motivating.

Most of all, don't panic. It's easy to worry if your teen is overweight, but sometimes it's just a passing phase and they'll grow out of it. If you are concerned, see a doctor to discuss your worries. Set good habits yourself, enjoy eating healthily and exercising as a family, and they'll have the perfect role model to follow.

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