Overweight teenagers

Published — Wednesday 12 December 2012

Last update 12 December 2012 12:20 am

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The next generation is on the verge of a health disaster, with fat and salt-soaked fast food, and a couch potato lifestyle being blamed for hoards of overweight school children. Seeing overweight children is no longer unusual; it is fast becoming normal.
If parents do not do something about their obese children, they will be outliving them. The younger you are when you become obese, the worse the serious, long-lasting ill effects. I feel for teenagers today, as they have more pressures from school to study and spend long hours revising for exams or doing homework than my generation ever had. Teenagers enjoy sitting around in front of the television and watching movies, or spend hours in front of the computer screen. Sitting about can be a disaster for weight gain. And the television uses this time to market snacks and fast food and drinks targeted at teenagers. I have also heard from many teenagers who have put on weight during exam time.

Have a heart-to-heart
If your teen is overweight, he or she is probably as concerned about the excess weight as you are. Aside from lifelong health risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the social and emotional fallout of being overweight can be devastating for a teenager. It can also be frustrating to attempt weight loss and have poor results. You can offer support and gentle understanding; create an action plan of small changes. You might say, “Let’s work together to get you healthy and fit.” It is important to be seen as supportive and not critical, as losing weight is not easy.

Educating teenagers is key
To a degree, you can control what small children do and do not eat; but teens will question any changes and may be reluctant to change habits, so education is key. Even many bright students seem to have the notion that whatever they put into their mouths that is tasted and enjoyed by the mouth will then drop – as though by gravity – out at the other end as a waste product. It is clear that many do not realize that it is only the fiber in food that is released by the body as a waste product. Everything else you put into your mouth ends up in your blood stream, and affects the body, for good or bad.
Important facts for teenagers to know:
Our bodies have five physical needs: water, food, sleep, exercise, and oxygen;
We need food, water, and oxygen for energy;
Food mixes with saliva and goes to the stomach, where it is broken down by acid;
If, for example, you eat an apple, some of the apple goes into the blood, and what cannot be broken down passes into the large intestine as a waste product;
If you eat a lot of cakes containing little fiber and much hydrogenated fat (like margarine) over a period of time, the level of cholesterol in the blood raises, which narrows the arteries;
Your liver is your blood-cleansing organ;
Smoking creates tar in the lungs, and inhaling the carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke forces the heart to work harder. The arteries narrow, as there is less space for oxygen. Smokers also experience decreased immunity and gum disease;
Peer groups have a big influence on teenagers, and they have to learn how to say no to some things that are harmful to their bodies;
Sometimes, being “cool” can mean being passive. When you are assertive, you put your own needs on an equal footing, and can say “no” with a smile or a joke;
Teenagers need to learn how to be logical, or simply change the subject and walk away;
If you are interested in healthy living, sign up to receive my free healthy living e-newsletter by mailing to [email protected];
Teenagers should have an hour per day of exercise.
It is no good asking your teen, “Why don’t you switch off the video and go and play some tennis?” You probably won’t get a reply. But you could say, “Let’s go to the gym together.” Many overweight teens may be embarrassed to exercise in public, so suggest exercise that can be done in the privacy of their bedroom just to get them started, or invest in an exercise bike or treadmill for the home. These don’t have to be expensive and are important for long-term good health.

Ask Alva
I’m a 17-year-old girl. I’m only 5 feet 1 inch tall and I am overweight. Please suggest exercises and diet to follow in order to lose weight and look healthy. I eat lots of chocolates and have spotty skin. Please reply as soon as possible.
— Hamda
Seventeen is a good age to start taking responsibility for your health and the way you look. It is best to take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating and taking care of yourself. So, this is what you can do:
Look after your skin by drinking 2 liters of water a day;
Cut out chocolates. Many people are addicted to chocolate, and it can cause spots;
Eat plenty of fruit every day;
Eat plenty of fresh vegetables every day;
Eat mainly grilled fish or meat, not fried;
Eat carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, or potatoes for energy, as you need plenty at your age;
Go to bed early, and get at least 8 hours sleep every night. Young people need plenty of sleep!
Don’t drink fizzy drinks – drink water or fresh juice instead whenever possible;
Allow yourself one treat a day;
Exercise every morning for at least 20 minutes, and try to get other exercise when you can. If you are not sure what to do, e-mail me for a free copy of my mini morning workout at [email protected].

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