As you enter the teenage stage, you – even without knowing – change your eating habits.
Firstly, teens tend to feel hungrier and hence eat more than before because their bodies are going through a significant growth spurt. The extra food gives you the extra energy and nutrients to support adolescence. It’s only natural.
Secondly, many teens end up experimenting with sugary and high-calory junk foods rather than healthy foods. You know, just to make up for the additional need for energy.
Consequently, overindulgence often leads to challenges such as adding weight, which results in being overweight or worse, obesity in teens.
Does it Get Any Better?
Teenage overweight and obesity are two of the most severe public health challenges of the 21st century globally. And no, it is not a challenge for the rich only as it affects many low and middle-income families as well.
The sad truth is that overweight and obese teenagers are most likely to stay obese into their adulthood and thus more likely to develop related diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases at a relatively young age.
In layman’s language, overweight and obesity can be defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. Usually, you can determine if you’re overweight by measuring your body mass index (BMI).
BMI is a ratio of body fat to the height and weight of an individual. To determine your BMI, use formula:
BMI = (Weight in kilograms/ Height in meters)2
To save you the time, here’s a quick BMI calculator for you 🙂
Moving on swiftly…
For adults, healthy body weight ranges between a BMI score of 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI range of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of above 30 is deemed to be obese.
However, in teenagers, the above numbers are slightly different. For overweight teens, BMI ranges from 21.91 to 24.85. For obese teens, it stands between 26.84 to 29.84, depending on various factors such as age and gender.
Why Is Obesity in Teenagers a Health Concern?
Overweight and obesity in teenagers come with health risks that can occur at that particular phase or in the future. These risks include, but are not limited to, hip and joint problems, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers such as colon, breast, and endometrial cancer.
There are also psychosocial disadvantages of being obese. Unfortunately, modern culture often sees relatively lean people as the ideal image of the perfect body weight. Obese teenagers are often victims of bullies, which mostly leads to low self-esteem. Subsequently, frequent bullying negatively affects their emotional wellbeing.
That being said, how does one become overweight or obese? We can’t attack what we don’t know, now can we?
What Are The Causes?
Many factors contribute to obesity in teens, some of which are genetic, thus beyond our control. The good news is only very few cases are related to genes. The primary cause of obesity in teenagers is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. In other words, you’re consuming more calories than your body can handle.
As earlier mentioned, during teenage, youngsters feel hungrier, thus eat more to compensate for the extra energy needed to support growth during adolescence. Unfortunately, teens don’t have enough information to understand the long-term consequences of their behaviors, including an unhealthy diet, drugs (sometimes), and inactivity.
It is saddening when you observe a global shift towards a diet that comprises a massive intake of calory-rich foods that are low in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, yet high in sugars and fat. Additionally, more people are leading a sedentary life thanks to urbanization, more tech gadgets, and evolved modes of transport that limit physical activity.
Now that we know the leading causes of obesity and overweight in teens, let us look at some of the management strategies.
Get The Right Information
They say information is power, and I could not agree more, especially on the health of teenagers.
During this phase, teenagers are on a discovery mission and hungry for information. If you are a parent, guardian, or mentor, use the opportunity to give them the right information concerning healthy eating habits.
Do not force your ideas on them, and as controversial as this might sound, stop punishing them for every unhealthy food choice they make. Doing so will only lead them to rebel, especially in your absence. Instead, be a good role model even with your eating habits and choices.
Give them the correct information on the importance of healthy eating. Make them understand how it helps them with concentration, school, sports performance, and overall wellbeing. When done right, teens are most likely to use the information to make informed healthy eating decisions.
Encourage them also to get enough sleep as this has been linked to lower rates of obesity.
Healthy Eating Habits
As a teenager, learn only to eat when you are hungry as opposed to eating out of boredom, tiredness, or emotional eating. Also, learn to stop eating once you are full as this will prevent you from overeating, which causes overweight and obesity. At the same time, do not fall into the trap of not eating enough, as this can lead to malnutrition.
Additionally, limit your calory intake, total fats, and sugars by avoiding processed foods, sports drinks, soft drinks, and processed fruit juices. They all have very high levels of sugar, salt, and saturated fats, which are not healthy when consumed in high quantities.
As part of making healthy food choices, increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and drink plenty of water. If you must snack, choose healthy snacks such as nuts and fruits. Also, avoid alcohol because heavy drinking leads to weight gain, especially belly fat.
Stay Physically Active and Exercise
We cannot ignore the importance of physical activity when managing overweight and obesity. Remember that an imbalance between the calories consumed and calories expended is the fundamental cause of overweight and obesity.
Being physically active helps you to burn off extra calories, which allows you to lose weight. Besides, regular exercise increases your metabolic rate, which is vital in preventing and reducing obesity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), regularly engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day reduces your body weight.
As a teenager, limit your screen time, avoid the temptation to sit all day watching television or on your phone. Go ahead and help with gardening and household chores and try exercises such as brisk walking, running, and swimming, among others.
Even though obesity is caused by a combination of many factors, some of which we have no control over, the majority of these factors can be controlled, helping you to prevent or reduce obesity during the teenage years. In managing overweight and obesity among teenagers, I could not agree more with Bob Filner. He said adolescent obesity is best tackled at home through improved parental involvement, increased physical exercise, better diet, and restraint from eating.