You probably know that the number of obese children and teens has risen in the United States over the past two decades. Obesity in children and youth can lead to heart disease caused by high cholesterol or high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea. In addition, obese adolescents are often targets of early social discrimination and teasing. The psychological stress of this can cause low self-esteem which could hinder academic and social functioning all the way through adulthood.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent Childhood and Adolescent Obesity?
As a parent, you want your child to maintain a healthy weight. To do this, you need to balance the calories your teen receives from foods and beverages with the calories they use through physical activity and normal growth. The goal should be to reduce the rate of your teen’s weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Teens should never be placed on a weight reduction diet without consulting a health care provider.
Encourage Health Eating Habits
The key to balancing calories is eating foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. Help your teen learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier and reducing calorie-rich temptations.
Simple ways to develop healthy eating habits are:
- Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products
- Include low-fat or non-fat milk and dairy products
- Choose lean meats
- Serve reasonable portions
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages
- Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat
You can also remove calorie-rich temptations. Teach your teen that everything can be enjoyed in moderation, but reducing high-fat and high sugar snacks is a good way to stay healthy. Make these things special treats instead of daily snacks. Substitute sugary or salty processed snacks for fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and hummus.
Another part of balancing is calories is engaging in appropriate physical activity and avoiding excess sedentary time. Regular physical activity has many benefits for teens, including:
- Strengthening bones
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Increasing self-esteem
- Helping with weight maintenance
It’s recommended for teens to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Great examples of moderate physical intensity activity are brisk walking, tag, jump rope, swimming and dancing. In addition to increasing exercise, help your teen avoid too much inactive time. Limit the amount of time that your teen watches television, plays video games or surfs the web to no more than two hours each day.