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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Weight Management and Teens
      Category : Health Centers > Weight Control and Management

Weight Management and Teens

Many adolescents seem to be lacking important information and guidance regarding exercise and nutrition. They don't know how to manage their weight and are becoming either overweight or underweight. A teen's ideal weight can be determined using the body mass index for children.

What is the information for this topic?

After infancy, the teen years mark the second fastest growth stage in life. It can be hard for a teen to manage his or her weight during this time. Teens need enough energy in the form of calories to grow and stay active. If they take in too many calories and don't burn them off, the energy is stored in the body as fat. Over time, this leads to weight gain. Teens who don't take in enough calories and nutrients don't have the energy to grow or function properly.

Overweight teens

There are many reasons why a teen might become too heavy. They include the following:

  • Television, computer, and video games may be more interesting than exercise. An inactive lifestyle can lead to obesity.
  • Living in a household with overweight adults can encourage a sedentary lifestyle and overeating.
  • Drinking soda and other sugary drinks can cause significant weight gain.
  • Girls who have precocious puberty are more likely to be overweight.
  • Overweight occurs at higher rates among Hispanic, African American, and American Indian children, especially girls.
  • Genetic factors make a difference. If one or both parents are overweight, the chance that a child will also grow up to be overweight goes up by 25% to 30%.
  • Health problems, including endocrine disorders, can cause weight problems in some teens.
  • Other factors, such as emotions, family problems, and self-image, influence a teen's eating and exercise.
  • Skipping meals and frequent snacking can lead to a poor diet. Much of what teens eat is high in dietary fat, such as prepackaged and fast foods.
  • Long-term effects of overweight

    Overweight teens often become overweight adults. They are at greater risk for developing a chronic disease, such as the following:

  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • coronary artery disease
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • Being overweight also can lead to low self-esteem. Many overweight teens isolate themselves from their peers and do not take part in outside activities. This can lead to even more weight gain.

    Helping an overweight teen

    Following are some ways that families can help overweight teens develop healthy habits.

  • Discourage drastic, unhealthy measures, such as strict dieting or drugs.
  • Stay positive. Don't nag or criticize.
  • Support any behaviors aimed at healthy lifestyle change.
  • Families can teach a child how to eat a healthy diet and get enough exercise. For instance, parents can help in the following ways.

  • Don't use food as a punishment or as a reward.
  • Encourage teens to increase their exercise.
  • Encourage teens to reduce calories a little at a time.
  • Focus on changing food preferences and eating behaviors for the long term.
  • Involve the teen in food shopping and preparation.
  • Limit access to snacks high in fat and calories.
  • Limit convenience foods, including fast foods and soft drinks.
  • Teach teens about good nutrition, including the food guide pyramid.
  • If a teen chooses to participate in a structured weight management program, it should do the following:

  • be run by qualified health professionals
  • be self-monitoring
  • encourage behavior change
  • encourage enjoyable physical activity
  • focus on healthy eating
  • help the whole family focus on making healthy lifestyle changes
  • Exercise

    Exercise is most successful if it is incorporated into the teen's lifestyle. Following are some effective forms of exercise:

  • bike riding
  • dancing
  • hiking
  • playing organized sports, such as basketball or soccer
  • rollerblading
  • skateboarding
  • swimming
  • walking instead of riding in a car
  • walking with a friend or parent
  • Underweight teens

    Being underweight also is linked to health risks, especially if it is caused by malnutrition. A diet with too few calories may not supply the energy or nutrients needed for growth and development. Too little food energy leads to fatigue, irritability, and lack of concentration. Being underweight can decrease immune response to infection and disease. It also can interfere with normal menstrual cycles, increasing the risk for osteoporosis in later life.

    Dieting can lead to more serious health problems, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia. These conditions are life-threatening and require professional help to treat.

    Helping the underweight teen

    Many of the tips listed above to help overweight teens also can be applied to underweight teens. Here are a few more that are geared to help underweight teens.

  • Choose nutritious foods with concentrated calories. Good choices include smoothie drinks, milkshakes, trail mix, peanut butter, and cheese with crackers.
  • Consider a strength-training routine to build some lean body mass along with body fat.
  • Eat three meals plus 3 to 4 snacks each day.
  • Follow the food guide pyramid healthy eating guidelines. Eat at the higher end of the serving ranges.
  • Have a high calorie snack before bed.
  • Families also need to work with teens and show them how to make healthy eating and exercise a part of their daily routine for the rest of their lives.

    Author: Kelly Streit, MS, RD, LD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 04/26/01

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