“The number of kids affected by obesity has tripled since 1980, and this can be traced in large part to lack of exercise and a healthy diet.” –Virginia Foxx
When it comes to teenage obesity, we are dealing with a new phenomenon.
A few decades ago, obesity among teens pretty much didn’t exist and no one was writing about ideas for teenage weight loss. Today, it seems like teens are becoming heavier and just as susceptible to deadly, obesity-related diseases as their parents and grandparents. I believe the reasons for this are the same reasons for the increase in overall obesity: mainly lack of sufficient physical activity and a diet that consists of too much processed junk food. First, I’ll talk about the physical activity component because I believe that this is the most critical for teens.
I used to believe that you can’t outexercise a poor diet, but I’ve changed my stance.
When I was a teen, I had a terrible diet: I ate essentially whatever I wanted which usually included fast food almost every day, a ton of highly refined carbs, and hardly any fruits and vegetables. I still remained super lean and in fact struggled to gain weight because I played several hours of soccer every day. The combination of eating high-calorie foods and enormous amounts of HIIT elevated my metabolism to the max and kept me at a calorie deficit which essentially took weight gain out of the equation. The diet wasn’t optimal, but I’d still consider myself healthier than the chubby kid who ate slightly better than I did. This is because I am convinced that body fat is the ultimate barometer of health.
That’s right. I believe that a guy with an 8% body fat and a really poor diet is healthier than a guy with a 20% body fat who eats better. Most adults live a sedentary lifestyle and between working, commuting, and handling family responsibilities, they are lucky if they have a couple of hours a week to spare for exercise. Teens aren’t as constrained. At least a couple of hours of daily physical activity used to be standard for most teens and this was usually good enough to keep obesity at bay. However, today, the teen lifestyle more closely mimics that of a busy adult. With the social media boom, Gen Y teens are spending more of their free time in front of screens, whether it’s instant messaging, Facebooking, or playing video games, and less time outside running around.
The advice I’d give to a teen who has weight issues today would be to discover a form of physical activity that includes a social component and do it as much as possible.
Team sports based on high-intensity intervals such as soccer and basketball are great, but it doesn’t have to be structured. Activities such as rock climbing, surfing, or skateboarding are excellent also. Today, more so than ever before, people of all ages are participating in group fitness activities such as cycling or Zumba. With all the options available, it seems almost impossible for a teen today to not be able to find at least one form of physical activity that he or she would enjoy doing several times a week. The social component doesn’t have to be there, but it helps increase consistency because when you are doing an activity with your friends, it doesn’t seem like work or an obligation and you’ll want to do it more often.
The diet part is a little trickier because teens usually aren’t the ones feeding themselves.
Therefore, this segment is directed more towards parents. If your teen is highly active, this is less crucial, but if he or she is sitting around all day, then more attention definitely needs to be focused on diet. My advice is simple. Incorporate more real food into your teen’s diet during the meals that you have control over. For breakfast, take the extra time to make eggs instead of feeding them sugary cereals. If they are using lunch money, they are likely going to buy whatever they want. But if you pack their lunch, opt for something like a turkey wrap with an apple and some Greek yogurt instead of chips and soda. Dinner is probably the meal you have the most control over so make it good with plenty of real whole foods like chicken or steak with vegetables or a salad. Remember, for inactive people, it’s best to minimize carbs, especially at night.
Being lean and fit will do wonders for teens’ physical and mental health.
I think it’s important to mention the mental component because teens are usually more conscious of social status and how others view them. Looking great will boost their self-image and raise their confidence. This in turn, will create less stress and stress level is a highly underrated component of staying lean and healthy. So it seems pretty simple. To me, the solution for teenage weight loss is the same as it is for adults. Be more active and eat better. If you can’t do both, start with one or the other, but try to make progress over time. Just like any other problem, teen obesity won’t fix itself overnight, but making strides in the right direction is the important thing.