In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that more than one third of teenagers were overweight and obese. Because obesity in teenagers can be a predictor of long-term health complications, making lifestyle changes to achieve a healthy weight is highly recommended by healthcare professionals. A well-structured program focuses on both diet and exercise, treating the immediate problem of obesity as well as instilling healthy habits in teenagers that will help them to maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives.
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Determine Severity and Strategy
The CDC has growth charts for children ages two to 20 for both guys and girls, which use percentage rankings to determine weight status. At a regular physical where height and weight is measured, a doctor can determine BMI percentage, and for teenagers over the 95th percentile, they are considered obese. Discussing weight options with a doctor or dietitian may be beneficial before starting on diet and exercise program. For teenagers who have the potential to grow several more inches, they may want to focus on maintaining their weight and growing into it over time. When health problems are present, or a teenager has mostly stopped growing, focusing on weight loss may be the recommended course of action. In any case, talking to a doctor before starting a specific diet or exercise plan reduces the risk of complications and problems.
Changing Food Choices
Since teenagers are growing and may feel hungry more often than adults, encourage regular mealtimes as well as one afternoon snack a day. Limit processed high-fat foods and sugar-containing beverages which contribute to caloric intake, but do not typically provide nutrients. Instead, teenagers should try to get three servings of low or fat-free dairy products, and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables, and include teenagers in choosing foods and preparing them to make meals more enjoyable. Even with healthier choices, pay attention to portion control, keeping portions of foods within recommended limits. Tools like MyPlate can help teenagers understand food portions and plan out their meals.
Changing Dietary Attitudes
Since teenagers are at a stage in life where they are preparing to live independently and make many of their own choices, parents and teenagers should also focus on improving attitudes and perceptions of food. These changes happen slowly and it may be beneficial to make only one change a week. Family-centered meal times help to improve the overall eating experience and teach teenagers about enjoying food in a healthy manner. Food should also never be used as a reward, and parents should discourage this habit as much as possible. Finally, teenagers can change their diet much more easily when the entire household plays a role. Supporting changes for teenagers is much easier when the entire family is also included in healthy behaviors.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that teenagers be active at least 60 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. This recommendation may be hard to follow, so obese teenagers should start slowly and space out exercise throughout the day to build up to a full hour of exercise. Both resistance and aerobic exercise provide benefits for teenagers. For resistance exercise, train in eight- to 15-repetition zones, completing one to three sets with two to three sessions per week. For general strength, train all muscle groups and match the program to the abilities and interests of the teenager. For aerobic exercise, fast-paced walking, jogging, biking and other types of exercise can be performed as tolerated. Teenagers may enjoy joining a local health club or can perform exercise through daily activities, sports and other physical exercises, such as swimming. Obese teenagers should try to complete an overall 60 minutes per day, although this exercise can be spaced throughout the day in shorter intervals.