“My teenage daughter struggles with her weight (as many of our family members do) but I don’t think she would be considered obese – although I’m not sure. What exactly is the criteria for obesity in teens? Does being overweight as a young person really carry with it the same health problems as it does for adults?”Yes, being overweight poses health problems for teens just as it does for adults. Your concerns are valid.
If your daughter is overweight, her chances of developing high blood pressure, type II diabetes and cholesterol disorders are significantly increased. All of these conditions can lead to premature heart disease and stroke risk in adulthood. But many conditions related to being overweight can actually begin to cause problems even at a young age. Joint damage involving the knees and hips can occur. Breathing difficulty due to worsening of underlying asthma is common. Many teens who are overweight will also develop problems with sleep, and the sleep problems in turn can worsen weight gain. In young ladies, too much body fat can create imbalance in hormones that can cause irregular menstrual periods.
Don’t let words like “obese” and “overweight” become barriers to communication. It’s probably better to think in terms of “healthy weight” versus “unhealthy weight” rather than getting too hung up about whether a teen is obese or overweight. Because kids come in all different heights, and heights change until growth is completed in the teen years, Body Mass Index is widely used to differentiate healthy weight from unhealthy weight in children and adults. Body Mass Index, or BMI for short, is calculated from a person’s height and weight. At any given age, there are upper limits for a healthy BMI. These are expressed statistically as percentiles. Any BMI below the 85th percentile is considered a healthy weight. As BMI increases above the limits for what is considered healthy, health risks and problems begin to appear and get worse as the BMI goes higher and higher.
Calculating BMI is easy using an online tool provided by the CDC: https://nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/calculator.aspx Enter height, weight and age, and this website will provide the BMI as well as the BMI percentile. If you find that your daughter is in the unhealthy weight zone, changes need to be made.
The worst place to store excess body fat is around the waist. Too much fat around the waist affects internal organs. The liver can be scarred and damaged by fat deposits, and injury to the pancreas from fatty infiltration contributes to the development of type II diabetes. Teens whose waistlines exceed the recommended adult measurements are at highest risk. For adult females, the waistline measurement should not exceed 35 inches regardless of height. Teenage girls whose waistlines are greater than 35 inches are at an increased risk for all the health problems associated with being overweight.
Healthy lifestyle changes are essential. Initial steps include better food and beverage choices, and more regular physical activity. Cut out all sweet beverages, and drink more water. Spend less time sitting down and more time walking. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Limit time on the computer, tablet or phone to one hour daily. Encourage your teen to have an open discussion about her weight with her doctor. Finally, consult a registered dietician to develop a nutritional plan and help your daughter set realistic goals.
Response provided by James Ebert, MD, lead physician for the lipid clinic at Dayton Children’s