The number of children and teens that are overweight or obese has more than tripled between the years of 1980 and 2004. While obesity is not restricted by gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status, there is a slightly increased risk for those who are of poorer families. Girls are more likely to be overweight than boys, and Hispanic and African American teens are slightly more likely to be obese than other races.
Younger people, especially teens who are obese, face multiple problems caused by their weight. First, they face the same health problems that an overweight adult would, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension and cancer. Second, they face developmental troubles because of their weight and their health, especially if they are unable to go to school on a regular basis. And finally, they also face social development problems as they struggle to develop their personality while facing peer pressures beyond what the average child is facing.
Children and teens become obese for a variety of reasons: they tend to eat a poorly balanced diet filled with fast foods and very limited fruits and vegetables. One study showed that girls and boys ages 10 to 15 admitted that French fries were the only vegetable that they consumed on a regular basis. Another study showed that girls would eat other vegetables but only if they were covered in a cheese sauce.
In addition to poor food choices, they tend to be very sedentary, most of them spending most of their time in front of a television or computer screen or texting and talking on their cell phones. Finally, the children in the study that were found to be the most overweight also had overweight parents, suggesting not only a genetic link to explain their weight but an atmospheric one as well. After all, children of smokers tend to be smokers themselves, so it would stand to reason that obese parents typically will produce obese children.
The problem with weight and young teens, especially girls, is the fact that dieting and weight loss programs tend to backfire. In a three year study that monitored boys and girls ages 9 to 14, the dieters ultimately gained more weight than those who did not diet at all. It is necessary to use a different approach when dealing with young children and teens who are overweight. First, the family must be in total agreement that there is a problem. Several school districts came under fire in recent years when they sent home letters regarding a child’s weight and the health risks. The parents were either unaware that their child could develop such “adult” health problems as Type II diabetes or heart disease, or they did not accept that the child was anything but “stocky” or “husky”. Rather than face the legal ramifications, the school districts stopped informing the parents, hoping that the child’s doctor would take on the battle instead.
It is normal for a girl to increase her body fat during puberty; it is simply the way that the female body works. At this time, it is common for the girls to start paying more attention to their physical appearance, with many of them developing eating disorders because they are unhappy with what they see. It should also be noted that these girls are more likely to develop depression, which may also increase their chance of gaining even more weight.
Boys start adding more muscle and also increase in height, leading them to feel more satisfied with their bodies, while young girls are getting increasingly more upset by what they see in the mirror. By the age of 15, over half of the girls in 16 countries are dieting. The United States is the country that has the most weight-obsessed girls, with 47% of girls aged 11 dieting and 62% of 15 year olds doing so. Ethnicity plays a role in how the girls feel about their bodies, with African American girls feeling more body satisfaction than Caucasian girls of the same age group.
While most people assume that it is peer pressure that influences the body dissatisfaction of the teens, a study showed that it was not necessarily the case. In fact, peer pressure was shown to be third on the list of factors, behind media images and parental attitudes. It is important to realize that young girls who are overly concerned with the body images that are presented in the media, including magazines, television and movies, are more likely to develop depression as well as eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Ironically, this group of girls is also most likely to go in the opposite direction and purposely gain weight because they say that they will never look like the women that they are looking at on a daily basis.
It is Not as Simple as a Diet
Obviously, it is not as simple as suggesting that these children diet. It is a matter of changing an entire family’s attitude about weight, nutrition and body image as well as exercise. It is impossible to believe that a 15 year old girl or boy would be satisfied with eating fresh fruits and vegetables while Mom and Dad and siblings are eating burgers and fries. It is also impossible to believe that these teens will willingly get up off of the couch and away from their video games, their movies or their other electronics to exercise when no one else is doing so. It is necessary for everyone to work on changing how they feel about food and weight so that the child does not feel like he is “sick” or “different”.
Behavior and attitude treatment must be addressed or the weight will not change, at least not in a positive manner.
Renee and Family: A Positive Case Study
Renee was whining her way through gym class again when she suddenly collapsed on the gym floor. Panicked, the school sent her to the emergency room and then called her mother. The doctor, a brusque and plain spoken man, explained to Renee’s mother that her daughter was 55 pounds overweight and that if something did not change immediately, she was going to die with the body of a middle-aged woman. Renee’s episode was a reaction to her body not getting enough oxygen during the gym class, and would continue to get worse if she did not make a change. An appointment was made for Renee and her parents in two day’s time for a follow-up.
At this appointment, Renee, her mother, Emily and her father, Doug, met a doctor and a nutritionist who all agreed that the family needed a change for everyone. Doug, never convinced that he was overweight at all, chose to leave the room. Emily, however, listened carefully about how to make little changes, one at a time so that the family did not feel overwhelmed. Renee and she went to the grocery store with a list of new fruits and vegetables to try, as well as recipes for turkey and chicken dishes that were better for them than the red meat that they had been eating so much of. They have learned how to use nonfat yogurt in place of mayo and how to include more veggies in their foods without anyone really seeing them.
Renee and Emily have both agreed to join the women-only gym so that they can exercise without it being too psychologically hard for them to do. Another change that they have made is eating mini-meals, spread out throughout the day so that they are never overly hungry at all. Between breakfast and lunch, and again after their evening meal, both Renee and her mother have a protein supplement they are using. It gives them high-quality protein and keeps them from feeling hungry without the high calorie count of other protein supplements.