Are teens more prone to obesity?

By: DR TOROOTI MWIRIGI

When adolescence hits, teens institute behaviour patterns and lifestyle decisions that affect both their present and future health.

Serious health issues such as obesity can negatively affect the life of a teenager. Teen obesity is a serious health problem affecting many teenagers.

Obesity is simply defined as a state of having too much body fat due to caloric imbalance — only a small amount of calories are used up as compared to the amount of calories eaten.

To some, teen obesity can persist into adulthood and result in health complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Dear doc,

I am a mother of three children and my 14 year old son is obese. The other two are normal weight. What causes a child to become obese at this age?

Concerned mum

Dear concerned mum,

There are adolescents who add weight due to medical problems such as an underactive thyroid gland. But, most teenagers become overweight or obese because they are consuming more calories than they expend.

Cases of overweight and obesity at this age are due to environmental, behavioural, and genetic factors.

If there is a history of obesity in the family, for example in one or both parents, there is a high chance of their child becoming obese.

Behaviours such as eating unhealthy foods or large food portion and lack of physical activity can greatly contribute to excessive weight gain.

Physical activity is essential in establishing the amount of calories spent or stored as body fat.

Nowadays, due to advancement in technology, most teenagers spend most of their free time indoors watching movies, using computers, or playing video games.

This inactivity means most of the calories they take in are being stored as fat in the body.

Teenagers are easily affected by their peers and the environment they live in. For example, they spend a lot of their in school and thus the school diet and level of physical activity can have impact on their weight.

Dear doc,

What should I do as a parent to ensure that my teenage daughter gets proper nutrition?

Kyalo

Dear Kyalo,

A child’s nutritional needs change as he or she grows and changes. Nutritional requirements vary for different age groups and it is thus crucial as a parent to keep in mind varying nutritional guidelines when deciding what foods to give to their growing children at each stage of life.

For an adolescent, provide a diet with less cholesterol and fat, lean meat, and include small quantities of starchy foods like rice.

Avoid giving high-calorie toppings like butter, prepare boiled or baked foods and limit fried foods. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa typically develop during teenage years and parents need to pay attention to their adolescent’s eating habits

Dear doc,

I am 17 years old. I have gained a lot of weight recently. My question is how can I determine my weight status and can I use adult BMI calculator to gauge my weight?

Claire

Dear Claire,

One way of determining one’s weight status is by calculating body mass index (BMI). BMI usually measures the weight of a person in relation to their height.

However, BMI for adolescents is age and sex-specific and it is referred to as BMI- for-age. Once BMI for teen is calculated (weight/ height2), it is then expressed as percentile value which is obtained from percentile chart.

BMI levels are usually expressed in relation to other adolescents of the same age and sex. BMI calculator used for adolescents is different from the one used by adults as it must consider sex and age. This is because as adolescents grow, the amount of body fat changes and so is the BMI.

Also, growth patterns are different between girls and boys of same age. BMI-for-age are classified as: Obese – 95th percentile or above; Overweight- 85th- 94th percentile; Healthy weight – 5th – 84th percentile; Underweight- below 5th percentile.

Dear doc,

Should I be concerned about my adolescent child who is obese?

Kigen

Dear Kigen,

Yes. You should be concerned. There are several reasons why you should be concerned. Obesity during adolescent years can cause the body harmful effects in many ways.

These effects can be immediate or long-term.

An obese teen is at a risk of developing breathing problems like asthma, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure which increases risk of cardiovascular disease, joint and musculoskeletal problems.

Other problems include low self-esteem as he or she regards themselves different from their peers, psychological problems, and social withdrawal. Obese adolescents have a high risk of becoming obese adults.

These questions have been answered and compiled by Dr. Torooti Mwirigi and the panel of DN2 health professionals. Have a question about your health? Please send it to [email protected]

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Tips on healthy eating practices for teenagers

As teens grow and become more independent. Food choices are among the initial decisions that they begin to make on their own. But, some of them are likely to make bad food choices hence not meeting their nutritional needs and often increase consumption of unhealthy foods.

Poor eating patterns can result into consumption of too much calories, particularly from unhealthy sugar and fats, which raises risk for developing obesity. The following are tips to help make healthy eating patterns;

Eat the right food portions: portion is an important aspect when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight status. Distribute meals throughout the day rather than taking fewer, larger meals. Do eat to finish the content of the plate and stop when you feel full. Divide your plate such that half of the plate should be filled with vegetables like spinach.

Then divide the remaining half of the plate into two parts. Fill one part with a source of protein like lean meat or plant-based proteins like beans. Fill the other part with one cup of cooked carbohydrate, such as rice. Including iron-rich food sources in teen diet like beef, beans, and fish is important for especially for girls as menstruation increases needs for iron.

Choose healthy drinks: sugary drinks contribute to too much weight gain and risk for obesity. Teenagers should be encouraged to cut down on sugary beverages. Refined fruit juices and soft drinks such as sodas are made of pure sugar and contain no fiber. Good choices for drinks include water, milk, or a cup of yoghurt. Milk products are a good source of calcium which is needed and well absorbed in the body of a teen.

Avoid skipping meals: skipping meals can result into overeating and bad food choices during the next meals, habits that can contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Most teenagers have a tendency to skip breakfast meal regularly.

However, breakfast is a very important meal and is linked to better mood, improved memory as well as cognitive function. Skipping does not help in losing weight and it is not good for your health as you can lose out on essential nutrients. Avoid fad diets as they often do not offer positive results and this can leave a teen even more frustrated.

Eat meals in a designated place: Eating in front of television or playing with gadgets such as mobile phones can encourage idle eating and result into overeating. Concentrating while eating can help a person use their physical cues to determine when they are full.

Eat meals together as a family: sharing meals together with other family members provides comfort and also promotes appetite.

This way also teenagers are able to learn healthy eating pattern from their parents.

Eat meals home cooked meals: Most foods served food outlets are high in sugar, unhealthy fats and calories. On the other hand, meals prepared at home should be carefully cooked hence a healthier option.

Encourage physical activity: limit sedentary activities such as video games and watching television. Teens should be encouraged to engage in more outdoor activities such as joining a sports team, biking, skipping, dancing, or other physical activities that they love doing.

Go for healthy snacks: Avoid high-calorie snacks such as cakes, chocolates, and sweets. Instead, choose healthy snacks in form of whole fruits, vegetable salads, or yogurt. Parents should ensure to stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks as a way of encouraging their teens to eat healthy.