When your teen is overweight
Is your teenage kid overweight? If so, you're not alone (though sometimes it probably feels as though you are). Federal statistics show that nearly a third of American children and teens are overweight or obese.
I've been learning a lot about how to help overweight kids get to a healthy weight as I researched this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column. While much of the advice out there sounds reasonable, some of it seems to come from people who have never raised a teen. I'm particularly put off by the widely held and overly simple notion that parents' modeling healthful behaviors leads to children following their lead. I think that may work with younger kids, and I know it can pay off later in life (my mother's daily 3-mile-walk certainly inspired my current commitment to daily exercise). But not many teens I know are outwardly eager to mimic their parents' behavior. Aren't the teen years when they're supposed to start separating themselves from us?
But, as I said, some of the tips seem as though they might really work. Here are a few I that seemed most likely to help:
- Get a physician involved in evaluating your teen's weight. He or she can take an objective view as to whether your child is in fact overweight and dispassionately discuss a game plan for getting on track.
- Start early. It's much easier to instill healthful habits in little kids than to get teens to adopt new ways all of a sudden. Still, be prepared for your child to abandon some of those healthful habits once you're not the only one providing his meals and overseeing his daily activities.
- Consider "diet" a four-letter word. Instead of focusing on deprivation or even directly on weight loss, talk in terms of developing healthful eating and exercise habits that will serve your teen well now and throughout his or her life.
- Provide mostly healthful foods, but allow for occasional treats.
- Help your teen learn to figure out when he or she is really hungry or just wanting to eat for reasons having nothing to do with fueling the body.
- Let your teen help plan meals and shop for food.
- Make sure your kid gets plenty of sleep -- 8 to 9 hours a night -- and regularly eats breakfast.
- Take a hard look at how much time your teen spends in front of screens -- TV, computer and video -- and work with him or her to come up with a reasonable limit. Most experts advise no more than 2 hours' screen time per day.
- Expand your definition of physical activity, of which kids should get 60 minutes' worth a day. For kids who don't enjoy -- or have time for -- organized sports, that can mean dancing, hula-hooping or kicking a ball around the yard. And remember that six 10-minute sessions throughout the day work just as well as one 60-minute block of activity.
- Don't single out the overweight kid. Involve the entire family in new, healthful eating routines and physical activities.
What have you done to try to help your teenager manage his or her weight? How are things going? Share your tales and tips in the comments section, please!
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