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I keep hearing about the rising rates of teenage obesity. Are the news reports true? As a parent and teacher, are there any physical or emotional problems associated with teenage obesity that I should be aware of?

The news reports are true. Obesity rates among teens have almost tripled over the past two decades! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented the escalating obesity rates in our country, state by state; see: 

The most alarming physical effect that we see among obese teens is Type II diabetes, a condition previously seen only among overweight adults. The emotional effects are also tragic; overweight teens are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and depression. Here are some suggestions for parents, teachers and teens to stop and reverse this alarming trend: 

  1. Create school policies that limit sales of "junk" foods--soft drinks, snack chips and cakes, cookies, fruit drinks, etc. Instead, offer fresh fruits, low-fat yogurt, string cheese, lean meat sandwiches on whole grain breads, flavored milks and bottled water--on ala cart food lines. Schools can still make profits, but it's important not to make those profits at the expense of students' health. 
  2. Create time and places for youth to enjoy physical activity. Can a class be offered before, during or after school that offers teens an opportunity to work out together? Plan family and class outings around physical activity. 
  3. Watch less television, and spend less time on the computer and with video games. These activities are "sedentary"--they don't burn as many calories as physically active play. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting television, video and computer time to no more than one to two hours per day. See their position statement on television at: 
  4. Find physical activities you enjoy. Not everyone is cut out for team sports. Walking, hiking, biking, skating, aerobics, swimming, basketball, Frisbee, weight lifting--all are activities that can be done independently or with friends at times that are convenient with your schedule. 
  5. Eat with your health in mind. For example, start each day with a quick, nourishing breakfast, such as a bowl of cereal topped with skim milk and fruit. Resist the urge to "super-size" for just pennies more; the extra calories aren't worth it. Instead of soft drinks, drink more water. Finally, become more independent and learn to cook healthful meals!

For more information on healthy eating, visit the American Dietetic Association website at: 

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, University of Missouri-Columbia

University of Missouri Extension Site Administrator: 

Last updated:06/17/2015
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