18% of teens (kids ages 12-18) in the United States are obese. Many more (another 15%+) are overweight or on their way to becoming overweight. U.S. teens are more likely to be overweight than teens in 14 other industrialized countries.
- Signs your child is overweight or obese
- Is it really dangerous for teens to be overweight?
- Many overweight teens think they’re at a healthy weight
Teens with unhealthy eating habits along with teens who are already overweight pose a unique challenge for parents.
The biggest issue – ignoring the situation and total denial
Both overweight teens and their parents tend to avoid or ignore weight issues and there is substantial denial and misconceptions in play as well. As a parent, you can ignore your child’s weight issues if you like, but it’ll be at the cost of his or her health.
Parents who wait until their child is a teen to discuss food issues with them have a much harder time than parents who make it a point to discuss healthy eating, weight and exercise when their kids are young. Bad habits are harder to change and harder to discuss the longer they go on. Teens are more sensitive than toddlers, so parents may find it increasingly hard to start the healthy lifestyle conversation at this point.
By the time kids are teens, they’re less willing to discuss weight, calories and other lifestyle choices. In fact, one teen survey showed that teens who had never been talked to about their weight or food choices said that it would be terrible and embarrassing to have to discuss weight issues with a parent. Early childhood, not the teen years is the best time to discuss food and health issues, but too many parents skip these conversations until it’s too late, which spirals back to, “Now it’s too hard to do it.”
Study after study shows that overweight teens seriously underestimate their weight problem. Most teens who have a BMI placing them in the overweight or obese category feel that they are actual at an ideal or decent weight. Researchers estimate that in total, more than half of teens who are overweight don’t think they are. CDC research attributes this to the fact that so many teens are now overweight, that heavy teens no longer stick out – i.e. when you look like all your overweight peers, you start thinking that overweight is the norm. What’s worse is that parents of teens are also in serious denial about their teen’s weight, most avoiding the issue at any cost.
Weight and health issues related specifically to teens
Teens, on average, get less sleep than younger kids. A lack of regular sleep has been directly linked to weight problems in teens.
Belly fat is the new black among teens. A major study shows that shows that abdominal obesity, or belly fat, in adolescent boys is up 65% from 1998, while adolescent girls have increased their belly fat by 70%. This issue is of extreme concern to researchers who note that your belly is one of the most dangerous places to gain weight. Studies note that teens with belly fat are more prone to develop type II diabetes and some are even being reported to have early onset cardiovascular disease. Researchers also point out that belly fat in teens is especially grim, since historically it’s very unusual for a healthy teen to have belly fat. There’s been a sharp increase in cases just recently. Other research shows that one of the best ways to fight of belly fat in adulthood is to nip weight problems in the bud while kids are younger.
Overweight teens are more likely to be bullied than other teens. Honestly, I’m surprised at this still being a relevant statistic, seeing as how so many teens are overweight nowadays, but research says that 84% of all teens report seeing other kids teased about their weight, so it’s still an issue to consider.
A huge study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, completed in 2010 shows that obese or overweight teens are at a much bigger risk of becoming severely obese as adults than their non-overweight peers. After following a group of teens for 13 years, researchers found that 50% of the obese female teens developed severe obesity by their 30s, while 37% of the obese male teens developed severe obesity. Overall, obese teens were 16 times more likely to develop severe obesity as adults. Only a very small amount of non-overweight teens ended up overweight in adulthood.
The CDC says that one in five U.S. teens has an unhealthy cholesterol level. Just 14% of these cases are due to other issues. In almost all cases, teens have high cholesterol because they’re overweight.
Overweight teens are being ignored by health care professionals. Research shows that while seriously obese teens do get more preventive screening versus their normal-weight peers, teens who are overweight, not obese yet, do not get screened enough for related health issues. This is a big problem, considering that experts note that all kids, regardless of weight should be screened for health issues and have their BMI measured.
In the U.S. today approximately 150,000 school-aged children and teens are diabetic. An increasing amount of these cases are the Type 2 form that is associated with inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity. In total, adolescents account for 33% to 45% of new Type 2 cases today. Fatigue and constant hunger are two key signs that an overweight teen should be tested for diabetes. That said, experts note that this is a preventable disease in teens and kids, if they’re simply encouraged by parents and health care providers to have healthy habits.
Overweight teens are becoming increasingly prone to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease according to The American Liver Foundation and other experts, a problem that used to be almost unheard of. Now, around 2-10% of American children over the age of 5, most who are obese or overweight are developing this problem. Experts say that some people in their 30s or early 40s will require a liver transplant due to this condition and by 2020, researchers estimate that obesity will be the top cause of liver transplants.
Overweight teen girls are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than healthy-weight teens. Plus, research in Diabetic Care shows that the amount of diabetic teens who get pregnant has increased 500% (you read that right) in the past decade, due to the fact that too many girls are overweight or obese so they then develop Type 2 diabetes, which can cause severe complications in pregnancy.
Overweight or obese teen girls are more prone to depression than other girls.
A major Columbia University study showed that teen girls who are overweight or obese are less healthy than overweight or obese males – girls had a 6.6 times higher risk of disease than males.
Research published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine notes that overweight teenagers are more socially isolated and have fewer friends than healthy-weight teens.
Teens who attack weight-loss alone, have no clue what they’re doing. Some teens do realize they’re overweight, yet, because they haven’t been given healthy lifestyle tips by parents, they go about weight loss in an incorrect manner. For example, overweight teen girls are more likely to smoke and exercise 60 minutes a day, but still drink a lot of non-diet soda and eat overly large of food portions. Overweight male teens who reported wanting to lose weight also said they got zero physical activity per day and fit in three hours a day on average of video game play. Researchers on this study were happy to hear that 3/4 of teens wanted to lose weight, but puzzled at how they went about it. The researchers also noted that they were not sure if the teens realized their weight loss behavior were counterproductive or not. Lastly, researchers said that better role models and talking to health care providers might help.
Teens can’t learn how to manage portion control if they haven’t been taught about it and parents avoid it. As noted above, parents are often in denial about their teen’s weight. Portion control is a big part of this. Parents more and more allow their child to eat huge food portions without ever discussing the cons. Kids left to their own devices, with no parent input will eat a 2000+ calorie restaurant meal, pour 900 calories worth of sauces (like salad dressing or sour cream) on their food and eat king sized candy bars vs. a smaller bar. What’s unique about teens who overeat though, is many know it.
If you start visiting teen weight sites and read the teen comments you’ll note that teens have a basic idea that eating an entire bag of chips or a quart of ice cream is unhealthy, but they say their parents let them do so, by purchasing the food and keeping it in the house and by not saying anything about it. Teens do need a parent who is willing to step up and say, “That’s too much sour cream.” Parents don’t want to shame teens, but there is a huge difference between saying something rude, like, “You’re so fat, quit eating” and simply teaching about proper portion sizes.
Studies show that teen obesity is expensive. An obese 18-year-old racks up about $549,907 in health care costs if they remain obese throughout adulthood.
If you have a young child, you can avoid many of the issue above by simply discussing weight and health issues with your child early on, before the teen years come into play. Still, many parents are already experiencing the problems that come along with avoiding the issue. So, coming up soon, we’ll look at ways to raise a healthy eater from birth but we’ll also look at the much trickier situation of how to discuss weight loss and healthy habits with a teen – it’s harder, but not impossible.