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Categories > Children’s Health > The teen years

Battling weight gain

Adults aren’t the only ones battling the bulge these days. About 16 percent to 33 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are now classified as obese. The extra pounds increase their risk of developing the same life-threatening diseases that plague obese adults: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more. And just as devastating as obesity’s physical consequences are its emotional ones—depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If your teen is overweight or obese, take these steps to get him or her on the road to a healthy weight.

  1. Have your teen get a physical evaluation. Some weight problems have a physical cause, so a pediatrician should check your child before beginning a weight-loss regimen. What’s more, medical professionals can offer expert advice about proper nutrition and exercise guidelines.
  2. Help, don’t harp. Your child should know that fat or thin, you’ll always love and accept him or her. Listen to your child’s weight concerns and offer encouragement and understanding. Let him or her know that no quick fixes exist and, while you can help with better food choices and motivation, losing weight is an individual responsibility.
  3. Shop smart for snacks. For your teen to make better food choices, healthy options must be available. Stock up on low-fat yogurt and pudding, string cheese, fruit, cut-up veggies and pretzels. Substitute flavored water and seltzer for high-calorie sodas.
  4. Keep an eye on portions. In a study by Harvard University’s School of Public Health, overweight teenagers consumed between 700 and 1,000 more calories a day than they needed over a 10-year period. This resulted in an average weight gain of 58 pounds. To help your teen learn portion control, teach him or her to start measuring foods. One cup of pasta or 3 to 4 ounces of meat (about the size of a deck of cards) are the right portion sizes for weight loss. To limit mindless nibbling, encourage your teen to be aware of when the trigger for eating is hunger and when it’s boredom or stress.
  5. Involve the family. The more support your teen has, the more apt he or she is to stick to a weight-loss plan. Work together to invent low-calorie versions of family recipes; make a family rule banning eating everywhere in your home except the kitchen (a good way to stop munching in front of the TV); and be your teen’s workout buddy by taking walks together after dinner, shooting hoops or window shopping at the mall.
  6. Plan for treats. Everyone needs an occasional indulgence, your teen included. When your teen’s urge strikes, encourage him or her to lessen the damage by splitting high-calorie treats with friends or opting for portion-controlled snacks like individually wrapped chocolate versus a whole candy bar. Your aim is to promote healthier eating habits, not to forbid specific foods.
  7. Get help. Joining a weight-loss support group can give your teen the practical and emotional help to keep the weight off for good.