Influenced by what he sees on TV and in magazines, your teen may worry that he's not thin enough. Some teens take longer to grow into their adult height than others and may continue to harbor some of that "baby fat." But you should discourage your teen from going on a weight-loss diet; instead, encourage healthy eating. If you're concerned about your teen's weight, talk to his doctor about the best way to deal with the issue.
Baby Fat and BMI
Like adults, many teens have a tough time managing their weight, with one out of every three teens either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which also says that an overweight teen is more likely to become an overweight adult. If you're concerned about your teen's extra baby fat, talk to his doctor and request a body mass index, or BMI, measurement. The BMI measurement for teens uses the same mathematical formula as for adults, but the measurement is plotted on a growth chart specific to age and gender. If your teen's BMI falls between the 85th and 95th percentile, he is considered overweight; greater than the 95th percentile means he's obese. However, no matter where your teen falls on the BMI chart, you still shouldn't put him on a weight-loss diet.
Why Teens Need to Eat
Growth is a major theme of the teen years; a young teen may grow several inches in less than a year. And while her growth may slow down, she still has high calorie needs to gear up for the next growth spurt. Boys during the teen years need about 2,800 calories a day; girls, 2,200 calories. If following a low-calorie diet to lose weight, your teen may compromise her growth and not reach her full height potential when she stops growing. She also incurs a risk that she won't get all the essential nutrients she needs, which may lead to health problems.
Encourage Healthy Foods
Instead of focusing on calorie restriction to help your teen lose the baby fat and thin out, encourage him to eat right. Healthy foods provide your teen with all that he needs to grow. So fill his diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain unsweetened cereal, lean sources of protein such as chicken, lean red meat and beans, low-fat dairy and healthy fats such as nuts, avocados and olive oil.
Don't leave it all up to your teen to eat right. Set a good example and keep your kitchen stocked with the right foods, and offer your teen healthy balanced meals. Keep it simple, such as whole-grain cereal with fruit for breakfast, a peanut butter and banana sandwich at lunch, and chicken fajitas with brown rice and beans for dinner. And, to limit extra calories and maximize nutrition, be sure to do more baking, broiling, microwaving and grilling instead of deep-frying.
It also helps if your teen gets involved too. He can help you pick recipes, grocery shop and prepare meals.
The Problem With Processed Foods
While eating the right foods is a good start in helping your teen manage her weight, you also want to discourage junk food. Teens who regularly eat fast food are more likely to be overweight than those who eat it only occasionally, according to the Better Health Channel. This is also true for soda, sugary cereal, chips, crackers, fried food and other processed foods. These foods are high in calories, fat and sugar, and a poor source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your teen needs for healthy growth. Encourage your teen to drink water or flavored seltzer instead of sugary soda, suggest a side salad with her burger in place of french fries when eating out, and pack healthy snacks such as dried fruit and nuts, or whole-grain crackers and cheese, to limit trips to the vending machine or convenience store for after-school snacks.
- Alabama Cooperative Extension: Growing Up, Not Out
- HealthyChildren.org: A Teenager's Nutritional Needs
- Psychology Today: Is Your Child Overweight or Is it Just Baby Fat?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About Child and Teen BMI
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity Prevention
- Lucille Packard Children's Hospital: The Growing Child: Adolescent (13 to 18 Years)
- Better Health Channel: Eating Tips for Teenagers
- TeensHealth: The Deal With Diets