Adolescents and Obesity
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly
got used to being the biggest kid in class, his round figure dwarfing
his classmates even in kindergarten. He learned to take it when
the other kids called him fatsoæand other names he'd rather
not repeat. He quietly sat out during kickball at school, even though
he loves to play the game.
estimated 20 percent of American children are obese. In fact, children
in the U.S. face this problem in rising numbers. About 11 percent
of 6- to 17-year-olds are obese, and twice that number are overweight.
from just a cosmetic problem, obesity is considered by some experts
to be one of the greatest medical risks faced by children in the
United States today.
and long-term consequences may include diabetes, orthopedic problems,
premature puberty, respiratory complications, hypertension, heart
disease and certain cancersænot to mention low self-esteem.
general, experts believe that there are some common causes of obesity
among the young: lack of education about proper nutrition, paltry
opportunities for exercise, too much TV, the glorification and overconsumption
of fastfood. Perhaps more than anything, these problems are rooted
in the family, in entrenched food purchasing, eating and activity
patterns. In fact, many parents may be poor role models. More than
one-third of adult Americans are overweight, and their children
tend to take after them.
must address the problem. The first step in helping a youngster
is to take him or her to a physician for a full physical examination.
Such an exam allows the physician to look for a medical cause for
obesity. Although extremely rare, adrenal problems, thyroid disorders
and even certain tumors can cause rapid weight gain in children.
possible medical causes of obesity have been eliminated, the physician
can refer the child to a pediatric dietitian who will help set realistic
goals for the child. In toddlers and young school-aged children,
the goal should be to slow down weight gain and allow the child's
height to catch up to his or her weight.
students in junior high and high school, individual weight goals
must be based on the degree of obesity and the stage of puberty
. If weight reduction is necessary, the physician can help the patient
set realistic goals and monitor weight loss.
trying to help your youngster through this difficult process, remember
that parental love and uncritical support are essential.
Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly
is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas
Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information,