Not all of you have teenagers in your home but if you have children, you will some day so listen up. Has your preteen or teen gotten a little plump– have a few extra pounds stored up? This happens all to often in our culture. No wonder, with 40% of teens eating fast food daily! And those sugary drinks–they are ubiquitous. Each soda usually has the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar. That’s a candy bar in each glass. No wonder 1/3 of children in America are overweight and 20% are obese. Can you imagine maintaining your healthy weight eating fast food and drinking soda every other day? Today, I thought we would talk about the obesity epidemic in America among children and tell you about an observation that I have made over my career that might be very useful for you if you have an overweight preteen or teen in your home.
There is no doubt that children today have a higher body mass indexes, on average, than your generation did growing up. Just consider these numbers; About 4% of children were obese in 1970 America compared to 20% today. As you can see from the graph in this pedcast, in some subpopulations like African American children and Mexican American children, the rates are even higher.
These are very sobering numbers and very sad numbers. If you don’t believe these statistics, just take a look at a picture of your elementary school class picture and see how many of the children in your 3rd grade class were obese. I’ll bet it wasn’t 1 in 5.
So that is the bad news that you have probably heard before. Certainly we have talked about it many times in many articles and posts on DocSmo.com. As a pediatrician it is my job to pick the seriously overweight children out and get them some help before they begin developing the health problems, both short term and long term, that are associated with obesity; hip fractures, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and premature cardiovascular disease just to name a few. For more on that, get a copy of my book, Can Doesn’t Mean Should, and i think i will convince you that you don’t want your children to be overweight.
Now for the good news. Every once in a while my conversation with a teen about their poor diet seems to make a big difference for that child but I will tell you what is a more reliable way to cause a dramatic change in an overweight teen, especially a teenage boy– get them a personal trainer who will work on improving their diet and physical fitness. What these trainers can do is nothing short of a miracle sometimes. Since body image is the big issue for most younger teens, improving their body image, making them stronger, and bringing their weight under control is exactly what trainers do, and do well sometimes. I’ve seen some spectacular improvements in especially mid teenage boys when they get attached to a trainer and try very hard to please that person. It is that personal relationship, frequent interaction, and desire to please that starts the process and it is the improvement in body image that keeps it rolling. It really is the Weight Watcher’s model of education and change, frequent reinforcement of new behavior, and personal attention that makes all the difference. Imagine that each week you looked in the mirror, you were leaner, stronger, faster, and more agile. You would be excited as well, wouldn’t you?
Frankly, I have only seen the personal training model work well with teens, especially teen boys as I said earlier. Younger, school age children don’t seem to be motivated by negative body image nearly as much. We know that most younger children who are overweight don’t see themselves as overweight for some reason. Don’t believe me? Check it out, This is well documented. So if you have an overweight teenage boy in your family and you can afford it, see if you can’t get them into a personal training program where they have a one-on-one relationship with a personal trainer for the long haul. I think you will be glad you did and I think they will be glad that you did as well. Their fitness is likely to improve as is their diet, self esteem, and self confidence. All great things.
As always, thanks for joining me today. If you like portable practical pediatrics, take a moment to subscribe at www.docsmo.com, send in a comment, and drop a short review on iTunes. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E, that’s the first child’s bedroom on the east side of my house, reminding you that if your child is getting a little plump, it’s OK to give their weight control a little bump with a personal trainer. Until next time.