The obesity epidemic in the U.S. is truly tragic. Even more tragic, the teen obesity crisis. Teen obesity is even outpacing adult obesity in the U.S. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled among adolescents. The percent of adolescents aged 12-19 who were obese increased from 5% in 1980 to nearly 21% in 2012. Overall, 37% of ALL teens are obese or overweight.
WHAT CAUSES THIS?
Here is a short list of what causes obesity in adolescents and teens:
- poor eating habits
- overeating or binging
- lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids)
- family history of obesity
- medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
- meds (steroids, some psychiatric medications)
- stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse)
- family and peer problems
- low self-esteem
- depression or other emotional problems
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical cause. In the absence of a physical disorder, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase the level of physical activity. Lasting weight loss can only occur when there is self-motivation. Since obesity often affects more than one family member, making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control for the child or adolescent.
Ways to manage obesity in children and adolescents include:
- start a weight-management program
- change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)
- plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods, avoid junk and fast foods); know what your child eats at school
- control portions and consume less calories
- increase physical activity (especially walking) and have a more active lifestyle eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer
- do not use food as a reward
- limit snacking
- attend a support group (e.g.,Overeaters Anonymous)
Obesity frequently becomes a lifelong issue. The reason most obese adolescents gain back their lost pounds is that they tend to go back to their old habits of eating and exercising. An obese adolescent must therefore learn to eat and enjoy healthy foods in moderate amounts and to exercise regularly to maintain a desired weight. Parents of an obese child can improve their child’s self esteem by emphasizing their strengths and positive qualities rather than just focusing on their weight problem.
When a child or adolescent with obesity also has emotional problems, a child and adolescent psychiatrist can work with the child’s family physician to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Such a plan would include reasonable weight loss goals, dietary and physical activity management, behavior modification, and family involvement.
Childhood obesity is a sad state of affairs. It must be addressed or we will continue to see children and teens with early onset versions of late-adulthood conditions. You can manage kids’ weight through portion control and healthy snacking, but I advocate the actual teaching of healthy habits by parents to kids. Parents are the first teachers of children. In closing, I hope these things I have shared will get all of you thinking.