With school in full swing across the country, the topic of teenage obesity resurfaces as kids are outside less and inside more in school and doing homework. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, around 20% of adolescents, age 12-19 years, are obese in the United States, which puts them at risk for a number of health issues later in life. That is a staggering number!
Obese teenagers are at a greater risk for:
- Prediabetes – a condition which increases their risk for the development of diabetes
- Bone and joint problems
- Sleep apnea
- Social and psychological problems
- High cholesterol or high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases
Factors that Lead to Teenage Obesity
For many years, researchers were not able to find the why behind teenage obesity (aside from food choices and lifestyle habits). Previous research has already shown that kids are more likely to gain weight during infancy and childhood due to parental decisions on diet and lifestyle. But, until now, the excess weight adolescents gain during puberty has been unexplained.
A 12-year study lead by Professor Terry Wilkin, of Endocrinology and Metabolism at University of Exeter Medical School discovered that when boys and girls hit puberty, there is a rapid drop in the number of calories they burn at rest. This contradicts the previous belief that calorie burn increases with the rapid growth experienced during puberty. More research needs to be done to confirm these findings on calorie burning, but Wilkin believes this occurs as a result of an evolutionary trait to save calories for growth.
The combination of less calories burned at rest, less physical activity and a culture where food is in abundance is contributing to the excess weight gained in adolescence.
Tips to Fight Teenage Obesity
Now that you are aware of the drop in calories burned during adolescence (although that might not be the case for all), here are tips to help fight it!
- Incorporate exercise daily. With school back in session, it is important to make sure your teenager takes the time to exercise, whether it be joining a school sport, taking the dog for walks, going for a walk after dinner or playing outside more.
- Eat balanced meals. Have your teenager start their day with a well-balanced breakfast and pack them a healthy lunch. If they choose cafeteria food, review the menu options with them in advance so they can learn how to pick healthier options.
- Have family dinners. Research has shown that eating dinner together leads to better meal choices and can also benefit your child psychologically.
- Limit added sugar. Added sugar plays a big role in weight gain and it should be limited to aid in weight management. Encourage fruit cups, vegetables, pretzels and hummus, peanut butter on whole wheat bread or celery, and homemade trail mix for snacks throughout the day. You can also make homemade banana ice pops or ice cream for a delicious after dinner treat!
- Increase fruits and vegetables. Introduce My Plate and encourage your kids to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables to keep them healthy and fuller for longer, leading to overall better meal choices.
Let’s take the steps now to combat teenage obesity!
Check out my blog on How to Prevent Obesity in Your Children here.
Your Turn to Take Action: In what ways will you help your teenager fight obesity? Let me know in the comments below.