Obesity: A Guide for Parents

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Wicker basket with assorted raw organic vegetables in the gardenApproximately 1 in 5 teenage boys in the United States is considered obese. Obese teens are at risk for health problems and struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. This guide was created to answer the most commonly asked questions regarding obesity in young men.

How do I know if my son is overweight or obese?

Your son’s health care provider (HCP) will calculate his BMI and BMI percentile to determine if he is overweight or obese. The BMI is a screening tool that factors in your son’s height and weight. Your son would be classified as overweight if his BMI percentile is between the 85th and 95th percentile, and obese if his BMI percentile is over 95th percentile (meaning that 95 out of 100 boys his age have a lower BMI). BMI generally does a good job of classifying people into the appropriate weight category, but it’s not a perfect screening tool because it’s not a direct measure of body fat. If your son is very muscular and active, he may have a higher than normal BMI even though his weight isn’t unhealthy for his height. However, if your son is inactive most of the time or is only active sometimes, it’s very likely his BMI is an appropriate measure for being overweight.

Why is it unhealthy to be obese?

Being obese is associated with many other health conditions, including:

  • Type II Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Fatty Liver disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis – bone and joint problems
  • Cholesterol problems
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Sleep Apnea and other breathing problems

There are also social consequences of being overweight or obese. Obese teens may experience teasing or bullying because of their weight.

If my son is obese, should he try to lose weight?

Weight loss may not always be the appropriate solution for teens who are still growing. While adults do have an ideal body weight, teens’ weights change as they get older and taller. In some cases, weight maintenance may be recommended, because a weight that was once considered too high could eventually be a healthy weight if your son is still growing.

If your son’s weight puts him far over the 95th BMI percentile, his HCP will probably recommend that he try to lose weight. If that is the case, weight loss is recommended at 1-2 lbs. per week, depending on the individual. Losing weight too quickly is not recommended because it’s usually unsustainable and may be unhealthy. Unhealthy weight loss may mean muscle loss in addition to fat loss. Medical supervision is important for teens who are considering weight loss.

What can my son do to maintain a healthy weight?

To maintain a healthy weight, your son should:

  • Eat regular meals (including breakfast) with healthy snacks in between.
  • Eat mostly filling, nutrient-rich foods such as whole-grain products, lower-fat dairy products, lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Refined or overly processed foods such as white bread, sugary cereals, and sweets should be limited.
  • Drink mostly water and low-fat milk. Sugary drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, and juices should be eliminated or limited to 1 small glass per day.
  • Limit fast food to no more than 1 time per week and choose a healthy option if and when he does eat it.
  • Do something physically active every day, such as playing a sport or going for a walk.
  • Limit his TV/computer time (not including school work) to less than 2 hours per day.

What can I do to help my son at home?

Do:

  • Focus on eating behaviors rather than weight.
  • Support your son’s health goals by buying healthy food or paying (if possible) for an exercise program. You can look for free or discounted resources at your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club.
  • Plan healthier family meals that are eaten together.
  • Join in weight management efforts. Keeping nutritious foods in the house and being active as a family is a great way to for everyone to be healthier.

Don’t:

  • Use food as a reward.
  • Control the amount of food your son eats or set strict rules about what he can and cannot have.
  • Remind your son that he is overweight or obese and how it impacts his health.
  • Show frustration or disappointment.

For more ideas about health and wellness goals that your family can all work towards, check out our health guide on nutrition and teens.

What if I have a limited budget?

  • Eat fresh produce in season when prices are reasonable and it tastes best.
  • Shop around for the best deals. Check your local newspapers or look online for coupons and sales and sign up for the rewards program at your local grocery store.
  • Choose frozen or canned vegetables/fruit in addition to fresh for inexpensive and nutritious additions to your meals. When choosing canned vegetables/fruit, look for products that don’t have added salt, and are canned in water or their own juice.

It’s helpful for parents/guardians to address weight problems during the teen years to prevent weight-related health problems. Many overweight adolescents continue to have weight problems in adulthood. However, keep in mind that a person’s weight is determined by many factors (such as genetics, environment, appetite, growth patterns, and activity level). Since teens can be sensitive about their bodies and their weight, your son’s health care provider should be the one to provide a professional opinion regarding weight management. You can encourage his health goals by providing support and/or modifying your home environment. Make sure to support your son and promote healthy self-esteem regardless of his weight.

Additional Resources