Parenting an Overweight Teen

Naturally, parents want their children to be happy and healthy so if their child is struggling with teen obesity they want to help. Parenting an overweight teen can be difficult. This article offers information and parenting tips on helping overweight teens be healthy.


Parents can play an important role in helping overweight teens make healthier choices and feel good about themselves. It's important for parents to set a good example for their teens of healthy eating and exercise, and to be supportive and encouraging of teens so they learn to have good self-esteem.

The percentage of teens who are overweight or obese has been rising steadily in recent years. Teens who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for many health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. They also may have low self-esteem or depression. Luckily, even taking small steps to improve a teen's eating and exercise habits can lead to being healthier and feeling better about themselves.

Parents who are concerned about their teen's weight should see a doctor before putting teens on a diet, especially any miracle or fad diets, which may be harmful to a teen’s health. Developing healthier eating habits, however, can help teens lose extra weight and improve their overall health. This doesn't have to be expensive or involve eating unappetizing foods. Some tips to start eating healthier include:

  • Lead by example. To help a teen who is overweight, the whole family should start eating a healthier diet.
  • Read labels to find out how much fat, sugar, and salt are in foods, and especially avoid those that are high in saturated or trans fat.
  • Eat at least one meal together as a family. This has been found to encourage healthier eating habits in family members.
  • Encourage kids to eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Stock a variety of healthy food choices around the home, like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, and low fat meat, milk, and cheeses.
  • Let teens help pick healthy foods at the store, like the fruits or vegetables they will eat.
  • Limit the amount of "junk" food that comes into the house, including ice cream, candy, cookies, soda, and chips. They shouldn't be forbidden or eliminated completely, but make them a special treat instead of a daily occurrence.
  • Cut back on soda, sports drinks, fruit juice, and other sweet drinks. Offer low fat milk or water instead.
  • Make as many foods from scratch as possible, which is usually healthier and cheaper than buying prepackaged or fast foods. If your family is very busy, take turns making meals. Teens can gain good experience by helping to cook for the family.
  • Find simple ways to make favorite meals healthier. This may mean using a low-fat or part-skim cheese in place of a fattier one, cutting back on the meat on pizza, using low-fat turkey instead of ground beef, or adding vegetables to a favorite casserole or on top of pasta.
  • Don't force kids or teens to eat more than they want.
  • Don't allow teens to snack or eat meals while watching TV or being on the computer as this can lead to overeating.
  • Don't reward children or teens with food, especially not with dessert. Find other ways to reward or encourage good behavior, such as with special activities.

The other important component of having a healthy weight is exercise. Teen exercise also helps with having strong bones, reducing stress, and improving self-esteem. Teens should exercise 60 minutes per day, but this can be broken down into shorter activities. Teens who aren't used to exercising may need to build up to that amount, and should consult a doctor before beginning physical activities. Exercise doesn't have to be boring or exhausting. Parents can help teens have fun exercising in several ways:

  • Do active things together as a family, like going for walks, hiking, riding bikes, roller skating, or playing a sport together outside. Even cleaning the house or working in the yard is good exercise for the family.
  • Encourage teens' interests in sports or outdoor activities. If they are interested, involve them in community or school sports or classes, including swimming, martial arts, or dance.
  • Limit the amount of time teens may spend watching TV, playing video games, or playing on the computer, other than for homework. Ideally teens should spend two hours or less on these activities every day.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of the bedrooms.

Set goals as a family, such as having healthier meals or more physical activities. This will help the family work together to be healthier, and avoids singling out overweight family members.

While parents are trying to help teens reach a healthier weight, it is also important for them to show teens that they love them no matter what, and that they are only concerned about their weight because they care about their well being. Compliment them on things other than their appearance, such as trying hard at school, doing chores, being kind or helpful to others, or any other positive activities they are involved in.

Listen to teens if they are expressing discouragement about their weight. Be supportive and encouraging, and, if needed, remind them that it can take time to lose weight, but that they will be healthier in the long run for their efforts, and that they have many positive things going for them in the meantime. Be on the lookout for signs of eating disorders, either eating too much or too little, or becoming obsessed with exercise or physical appearance. Also watch for signs of depression and substance abuse, which are often related to eating disorders.

Sources:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Weight-control Information Network, "Helping Your Overweight Child" [online]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Healthy Weight, "Tips for Parents" Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight" [online]

Nemours, KidsHealth, "Overweight and Obesity" [online]

University of Michigan Health System, YourChild, "Obesity and Overweight" [online]

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