Overweight and Obesity

Young women's version of this guide
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If your health care provider (HCP) told you that you have overweight or obesity you may be experiencing a variety of emotions. It is important to keep in mind that while having overweight or obesity can cause health problems, your risk of any health problems will decrease as you make lifestyle changes to work towards a healthier weight. Even if your weight doesn’t change, behavioral changes will make you healthier! It’s also important to remember that having a positive body image is more important than any number on a scale. Focus on the parts of “you” that you love and that make you special.

How do I know if I have overweight or obesity?

Health care providers use something called Body Mass Index (BMI) to calculate overweight and obesity. BMI is a tool that shows a ratio (or comparison) of height to weight and can be used to estimate body fat. If you are under the age of 19, your BMI is plotted onto a growth chart. Whether your weight falls into the “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight” or “obese” category depends on where your BMI falls on the chart:

  • BMI percentile <5th: underweight
  • BMI percentile 5th-85th: normal weight
  • BMI percentile 85th-95th: overweight
  • BMI percentile >95th: obese

If you are over the age of 19, your BMI classification is based simply on the number:

  • BMI <18.5 kg/m2: underweight
  • BMI 18.6-24.9 kg/m2: normal weight
  • BMI 25-29.9 kg/m2: overweight
  • BMI >30 kg/m2: obese

To calculate your BMI you can use this equation:

Weight (in pounds) x 703 divided by Height (in inches) squared

If you are under 19 and want to figure out your BMI percentile, you’ll need to ask your health care provider to look at your growth chart. Remember, BMI is not a perfect tool. Even if your BMI places you into an overweight or obese category, ask your doctor if you need to make any changes to your weight for your overall health. A health care provider will first assess your weight history, activity level, diet, and body composition (such as how muscular you are) before they decide if you need to make any changes.

Is it unhealthy to have overweight or obesity?

Having overweight or obesity can increase your risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Hypertension
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Joint pain
  • High cholesterol and/or triglycerides
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Metabolic syndrome

Usually, these health concerns don’t affect you as a teen, but you may be more likely to have them as an adult if you have overweight or obesity now. There is increasing awareness that people can be healthy at any size; however, it’s important to screen for possible health problems.

How did I develop overweight or obesity?

Studies have shown that having overweight or obesity is closely tied to genetics (whether or not your parents or other family members have overweight or obesity) as well as individual metabolism (how quickly your body turns food into energy), and environmental factors  such as diet and exercise. There is nothing that you can do to change your genetics (the genes or body blueprint that you inherit from your parents). However, you can change your environment by getting more exercise, eating healthier food and making healthier drink choices.

My health care provider (HCP) told me to lose weight, what should I do?

If your HCP told you that your health would be improved by losing weight, ask about whether maintaining your current weight might be a good first step. For adolescents who might still be growing, this is often an appropriate goal. If you feel ready to make weight loss a goal but aren’t sure where to start, you can ask your HCP for a referral to an exercise program and/or an appointment with a registered dietitian. These small lifestyle changes can make a big difference, and help you become a healthier person.

  • Increase the amount you move. If you are not currently physically active, start with a small goal of walking 30 minutes a few times per week. Gradually add more minutes, days and intensity to your workouts. Most importantly, find something that you enjoy doing! You’ll be more likely to stick with it.
  • Decrease the amount of processed or refined carbohydrates you eat or drink. This includes soda, juice, candy, sweets, baked goods, chips, etc.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. These foods are packed full of important nutrients and also contain fiber, which can help with weight management.
  • Drink more water. Whether you’re drinking water instead of sugar sweetened beverages or just trying to stay well-hydrated, make sure that you drink about 8 glasses per day.
  • Get enough sleep. Research studies have shown that the amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on weight. If making the other changes sound too hard or challenging right now, this might be a good first step!
  • Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Avoid becoming overly hungry which can lead to eating larger portions than your body needs.
  • Check-in with your feelings. If you think that your weight or eating might be directly tied to emotions, ask your health care provider about meeting with a therapist who can help you work through these emotions and find alternatives to using food as comfort.
  • Limit your screen time. We know screens are everywhere. But try to limit the amount of time you use them. Most importantly, try not to eat when watching TV, movies, or using a computer or tablet. Eating while watching a screen keeps you from eating mindfully and typically leads to overeating—and less enjoyment of your food!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of losing weight, remember: you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of teens dealing with this issue and plenty of resources and support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your health care provider to ask what resources are available to you such as: support groups of peers your age, discounted gym memberships, or meeting individually with a counselor or dietitian.