Since 1980, the number of teenagers who are considered to be obese has tripled. The American Obesity Association estimates that 30.4 percent of teenagers are overweight, and another 15.5 percent are considered to be clinically obese. If you add those number together, you see that nearly 46% of teens are overweight, or obese. That number is not only startling, but indicative the the health of not just out teenagers, but of Americans as a whole.
If you stop and think about what has changed since the 1980’s that has created a generation of teenagers who have severe weight issues, it is not too difficult to trace our way back to the factors that have come into play that are the origin of this obesity epidemic. With the advent of the internet, and a computer in nearly every home, our kids spend hours on the internet instead of being outside, and physically active. As more women has chose to, or have had to, become working mothers, we have fewer home cooked, sit down, family dinners. Our kids eat fast food, and we may even bring it home for dinner ourselves. Due to budgetary restrictions, many schools no longer offer P.E classes to teenagers.
Add to that DVD players and movies in our mailboxes. If out teens are not in front of the computer, they are often in front of the TV, or playing a video game. Our teenagers are sedentary, and they eat poorly. They are also at risk of developing many health problems that were once limited to adults, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. It is scary, and it is hard to ignore. Everywhere you look, you see teenagers with poochy bellies, or flat out pot bellies.
I do not remember this being an issue when I was a teenager. Few teens were overweight, or obese. We rode our bikes to school, or we walked. We didn’t all have cars. We didn’t have credit cards in our pockets so that we could charge a fast food lunch, or dinner whenever we were out, and nearly every night, we sat down with our families to have a home cooked, fairly nutritious dinner. All of these societal changes, and changes in families, haven’t just affected teenagers, but we adults are fighting the battle of the bulge, and often losing, too. So, what is the key in preventing teen obesity?
Teen obesity prevention must begin long before a child is a teenager. As soon as our kids are old enough to eat solid food, they need to be fed a balanced diet that features many fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. We need to limit the amount of sugar that our kids eat, and we need to stop eating meals in the car, with McDonald’s becoming a home away from home. If we, as parents, have weight issues, and poor eating habits, we need to address them right along with our children.
We all need to make changes in our diets. As a nation, we do not eat even close to the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains per day despite all of the information available on nutrition, and good eating habits. Our teens drink many of their calories in the form of sugary pop drinks with a tons of caffeine. Just ditching the pop for water would go a very long way towards lightening the load our teens are carrying on their bodies.
We also need to help our kids to get up off of their butts. Chances are, we need to get up off our butts, too. Family bike rides, weekend hikes, and walks around the neighborhood simply do not happen much any more. Our kids drive to places that they could walk, and we’ve taught them to do that. The people who own the little cottage that I live in live within a two to three minute walk from me. I can see their house from mine, yet, when they come over for any reason, they drive over, either in their truck, or on the riding lawn mower. Do we really all need riding lawn mowers? We have become lazy people and as a result our kids are lazy, and out of shape. We have taken using “modern conveniences” to an extreme.
Anyone who has had to try to lose a large amount of weight, or who has been fighting with weight control for many years, knows that once the weight is on, it is really hard to get it off. It is also hard to change bad habits to good ones. Hard–but not impossible. If we want to prevent teen obesity, then we have to start by preventing childhood obesity, and we need to overcome adult obesity, too. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and this is true of obesity in teens.
We all want the best for our kids. We want them to be happy and healthy, but we do not teach that very well, as we have forgotten how to take care of ourselves, or we say we have no time. The best way to prevent teen obesity is to lay a foundation for healthy eating for our entire family, and sooner rather than later. Time spent together eating healthy meals, and walking and talking will not only fight the teen obesity problem, but will bring us closer to our kids. That makes for a healthier family in mind, body, and spirit. Start now in your household to build good habits that will last a lifetime.