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Case Study – Teen Obesity, Popularity and Good Nutrition

The number of overweight or obese children and adolescents more than tripled between the 1980s and 2004. Although obesity is not limited by gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, there are a slightly increased risk for those who are from weaker families. Girls are more likely to be overweight than boys, and Hispanic and African American teens are slightly more likely to be obese than other races.

Young people, especially obese teenagers, face multiple problems caused by their weight. First, they face the same health issues as an overweight adult, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, and cancer. Second, they face developmental challenges due to their weight and health condition, especially if they cannot attend school on a regular basis. And finally, they also face social development issues as they struggle to develop their personalities while facing peer pressures beyond what the average child faces.

Children and teenagers become obese for a variety of reasons: they tend to have an unbalanced diet filled with fast foods and very limited fruits and vegetables. A study showed that girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 15 admitted that French fries were the only vegetable they ate regularly. Another study showed that girls ate other vegetables, but only if they were covered in cheese sauce.

In addition to poor food choices, they tend to be very sedentary, with most of them spending most of their time in front of a TV or computer screen or texting and talking on their cell phones. Finally, the children in the study who were found to be the most overweight also had overweight parents, suggesting not only a genetic link to explain their weight but also an atmospheric link. After all, the children of smokers tend to be smokers themselves, so it stands to reason that obese parents will generally produce obese children.

The problem with weight and young teens, especially girls, is that diet and weight loss programs tend to backfire. In a three-year study that followed boys and girls ages 9 to 14, dieters ultimately gained more weight than non-dieters. A different approach is needed when dealing with overweight young children and adolescents. First, the family must totally agree that there is a problem. Several school districts have come under fire in recent years when they sent letters home about a child’s weight and health risks. Parents were either unaware that their child could develop “adult” health issues like Type II diabetes or heart disease, or they didn’t accept that the child was anything but “stocky” or “hoarse”. Rather than deal with the legal ramifications, school districts stopped notifying parents, hoping the child’s doctor would take up the fight instead.

It is normal for a girl to increase her body fat during puberty; it’s just the way the female body works. Around this time, it is common for girls to start paying more attention to their physical appearance, with many developing eating disorders because they are unhappy with what they see. It should also be noted that these girls are more likely to develop depression, which can also increase their chances of gaining even more weight.

Boys are starting to gain muscle and height, which makes them more satisfied with their bodies, while young girls are increasingly upset with what they see in the mirror. By the age of 15, more than half of girls in 16 countries are on a diet. The United States is the country with the most girls obsessed with weight, with 47% of 11-year-old girls dieting and 62% of 15-year-old girls dieting. Ethnicity plays a role in how girls feel about their bodies, with African American girls experiencing more body satisfaction than Caucasian girls in the same age group.

While most people assume that it’s peer pressure that influences teen body dissatisfaction, a study has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, peer pressure was found to be third on the list of factors, behind media images and parental attitudes. It is important to realize that young girls who are overly concerned with body images presented in the media, including magazines, television and movies, are more likely to develop depression as well as eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Ironically, this group of girls are also more likely to go in the opposite direction and deliberately fatten up because they say they will never look like the women they look up to every day.

It’s not as simple as a diet

Of course, it’s not as simple as suggesting that these kids go on a diet. It’s about changing an entire family’s attitude towards weight, nutrition and body image as well as exercise. It’s impossible to believe that a 15-year-old boy or girl would just eat fresh fruits and vegetables while mom, dad and siblings eat burgers and fries. It’s also impossible to believe that these teens will voluntarily get off the couch and walk away from their video games, movies, or other electronics to exercise when no one else is. It is necessary for everyone to work on changing their feelings about food and weight so that the child does not feel “sick” or “different”.

Treatment of behavior and attitude must be addressed or the weight will not change, at least not in a positive way.

Renée and her family: a positive case study

Renee was whining again during her gym class when she suddenly collapsed on the gym floor. Panicked, the school sends him to the emergency room and then calls his mother. The doctor, a brusque and outspoken man, explained to Renee’s mother that her daughter was 55 pounds overweight and that if something didn’t change immediately, she was going to die with the body of a middle-aged woman. Renee’s episode was a reaction to her body not getting enough oxygen during gym class and would continue to get worse if she didn’t make a change. An appointment has been made for Renée and her parents in two days for a follow-up.

During this appointment, Renee, her mother, Emily, and her father, Doug, met with a doctor and a nutritionist who all agreed that the family needed a change for everyone. Doug, never convinced he was overweight, chose to leave the room. Emily, however, listened carefully to how to make small changes, one at a time, so the family didn’t feel overwhelmed. She and Renee went to the grocery store with a list of new fruits and vegetables to try, along with recipes for turkey and chicken dishes that were better for them than the red meat they had eaten so much. They learned to use fat-free yogurt instead of mayonnaise and to include more vegetables in their foods without anyone really seeing them.

Both Renee and Emily agreed to join the women-only gym so they could exercise without it being too difficult psychologically for them. Another change they made is to eat mini meals, spread out throughout the day so they never get too hungry. Between breakfast and lunch, and again after their evening meal, Renee and her mother take a protein supplement which they use. It gives them high quality protein and keeps them from going hungry without the high calorie count of other protein supplements.

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