July 11, 2020

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Help Beat Teen Obesity With Healthy Choices

Teen Obesity
By Joan Bardsley, MBA, RN, CDE, FAAD

US teens are suffering in the wake of an obesity epidemic in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fighting Teen Obesity is essential because more than 20 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are classified as obese, and MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital is urging parents to be mindful of this. As time goes by, obesity becomes a major risk factor for many serious medical conditions, including:

  • Cancer, including colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and kidney cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

The American lifestyle, from fast food to sedentary time spent on devices, makes it difficult for teens to avoid obesity and even more difficult to handle it on their own. Teens need support. Here is a quick list of tips for parents and guardians to help teens achieve their healthiest weight.

1. Get active as a family

Teens in the past used to get a lot more exercise than teens today: soccer with kids in the neighborhood, pickup basketball, swimming at the local pool. Today’s teens get an average of nine hours of screen time a day, which includes:

  • Checking social media
  • Playing video games
  • Texting
  • Watching TV and movies

Nine hours is longer than the most teens spend on school, sleeping, or being physically active. Some teens naturally gravitate toward organized sports, but if your child is not athletically inclined, he or she still needs at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

  • Think about a family bike ride or walk around the neighborhood a few nights a week
  • Play Pokémon Go or try geocaching to find hidden treasures at specific outdoor locations based on GPS coordinates
  • Try a yoga or low-impact aerobics at the local community center

2. Eat well together

There’s so much junk food available, and that’s naturally what a lot of teens want. It doesn’t help that super-sized sodas, burgers, and sweets are convenient and cheap. Support their weight goals by making a family commitment to eating healthy:

  • Avoid large portions at home and when eating out
  • Buy large bags of frozen vegetables or bulk canned vegetables to save money
  • Choose sweet, crunchy fruits and vegetables for snacks, rather than chips or cookies
  • Serve popcorn without butter as an inexpensive snack
  • Skip soda for sugar-free flavored ice water
  • Swap out the fried, fatty meats for lean cuts or beans

Use resources like the US Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate to plan nutritious meals.

Related reading: 3 Tactics to Battle Food Portion Distortion

Make one change out a time. Reducing fried foods, chips, and soda often is the hardest change for teens. Start with a single temptation, and once that one is mastered, move to the next.

3. Encourage teens to make healthier choices at school

Schools often have to deal with a difficult balance between the cost and nutrition of meals. Less-expensive food tends to be less healthy. Encourage your teen to let school administrators know they want healthier foods whenever they can get them. You also can teach them to pack healthy snacks and lunches themselves, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Snacks and drinks in school vending machines are often another source of unhealthy calories. Thankfully, there are nutrition standards in place for vending machines and other snack-selling locations in District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia schools that only allow healthy, nutritious foods and drinks during the school day, which is a step in the right direction. Help your teen avoid the urge to splurge by encouraging them to carry a water bottle with them to school. Consider sending them to school with sugar-free, single-serving flavor packets to make drinking water more interesting.

4. Score healthy snacks for teens’ sports programs

Depending on the sport and how frequently they play, your teen might not always burn off the same amount of energy they consume during their post-game snacks. That leads to weight gain. For example, my son played baseball when he was younger, and parents were responsible for bringing snacks for the kids. Many brought chips and cookies – not the best choices for low-intensity practices that were shorter than an hour.

Work with the coach and other parents to provide healthier alternatives, like:

  • Celery with peanut butter instead of protein bars
  • Smoothies or yogurt instead of cookies and candy
  • Water instead of soda

Teens still depend on their parents. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is the responsibility of the whole family. It is not always easy, but committing to a healthier lifestyle is important to teach teens healthy habits for life.

For more information and one-click access to a full list of resources available at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, visit their Leader member page.

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