While eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia get plenty of attention, obesity among teens is a serious problem, as well. In fact, according to a 2009 study, obese teens have the same likelihood of dying by their mid-50s as heavy smokers who smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day. For overweight, but not obese, teens, the risk is the same as light smokers who smoke 1 to 10 cigarettes each day. Even the same parents of teens who would certainly be concerned if their teen were smoking a pack a day often shrug their shoulders at a high BMI.
Underlying Emotional Problems
Just like smoking and eating disorders, teen obesity can often tip parents off to underlying personal issues. Not only does obesity lead to a lower life expectancy, but it can be symptomatic of a lower quality of life that comes from replacing healthy coping mechanisms and relationship skills with emotional eating. In addition, obesity in teens can be a symptom of deeper problems: 75% of overeating is emotional. So-called “comfort foods” are called that for a reason: Many people turn to food when they’re faced with difficult emotions such as anxiety, depression, boredom, loneliness, anger, or poor self-esteem.
Helping Your Obese Teen
In addition to counseling and discussions to help discern whether emotional eating is a culprit in your teen’s obesity problem, you can help your teen overcome obesity by promoting healthy habits such as nutritious eating and regular exercise.
Encouraging Nutritious Meals
If you’ve ever watched Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, you know that a supportive home atmosphere is key to a successful lifestyle change that promotes a person’s journey to a healthy weight. When your child is the person in question, you can start by increasing the number of meals you eat as a family. While healthier meals utilize whole foods that take more planning and time to prepare, you can use the extra time to bond with your teen by involving him or her in grocery shopping and the meal prep process.
Making Physical Activities Attractive
Of course, healthy eating habits are only part of the equation. Today’s children and teens are similar to today’s adults in that they typically have a sedentary lifestyle. All our gadgets and conveniences seem to encourage sitting for long periods of time. As a parent, you can help your teen get much-needed exercise by promoting athletic involvement, providing opportunities for active recreation, and encouraging an active social life that isn’t limited to texting or social networking. A fringe benefit of exercising is that it increases the endorphins that the body produces, helping your teen eliminate some of the negative emotions that may have led to obesity, to begin with.