Tips for talking to teens about body weight and food choices

Weight Loss Tips for Teens to Lose Weight and Feel Great

This post originally appeared in SplendaLiving.com.

Whenever I see old television clips from American Bandstand, a popular television show in the 1950-80’s that featured teenagers dancing to the latest hit songs, I can’t help but think that all that dancing really helped to keep those kids in shape.

Do you ever wonder what people will think about the youth of today when they look at archived YouTube videos 50 years from now?

Sadly, what they will see is that about one-third of American children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, as reported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The only thing sadder than that statistic is the one that predicts 80% of these teens will become overweight or obese adults. The single most important step we can take to reverse this trend is to prevent excess weight gain right from the start in childhood. And if excess weight gain begins in adolescence, the next step is to stop or slow down the rate of weight gain during the teen years. Tackling that problem is important for health, much more so than body image, and is the focus of this blog.

How to Get the Conversation Started

Research indicates that over-consumption of added sugars, from foods like full-calorie sodas and sweet treats, can increase the risk of becoming overweight in teens. The American Heart Association notes, “Although added sugars most likely can be safely consumed in low amounts as part of a healthy diet, few children achieve such levels, making this an important public health target.” Not having an abundance of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages in the house is the best way to help everyone in the family limit their intake of added sugars. It’s also important to talk to your teen about the need to eat all of the other foods that make up a balanced diet for good health, and to be a good role model for them to follow. The focus of these discussions with your teen should always be on achieving a healthy lifestyle, not a certain body weight.

Here are some straight up sensible weight loss tips to help you and your teen get started.

Tips to Help Your Teen with Sensible Weight Loss

  • Sugar swaps:  Your teen can enjoy the taste of something sweet without unnecessary added calories by swapping out some sugar for a low-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA®No Calorie Sweetener. Use it in favorite hot and cold drinks, sprinkle some on plain yogurt layered with fruit and a crushed graham cracker for a parfait, or get creative in the kitchen making other lower-calorie dishes. Here are a few fun ones that your teen can prepare and share with the whole family – just remember to observe the yield and serving size for each recipe and make your selections with that in mind: Sweet and Spicy Snack MixBanana Mini-Chip Muffins and Harvest Pumpkin-Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
  • Revamp snacks:Making sure your teen eats regular meals and snacks during the day can be a helpful way to keep them from getting so hungry they overeat, or eat impulsively. And when you have foods on hand that your teen likes and can assemble quickly – like whole grain cereal and lowfat milk, lowfat cheese and crackers or hummus and carrots – it makes it easier for them to choose healthier snacks.
  • Modify fast food menus:  Have your teen download the menus from some of their favorite fast food restaurant chains and, together, highlight the healthier food choices available so you’ll both know what to order the next time either of you eat there. You can also look at the menus from other restaurants in your area to see if they offer options your teen would like to try the next time you are dining out together.
  • Reduce added sugars and calories in drinks: Most teens have no idea how much sugar and calories they drink in a typical day. Here’s a great printable chartfrom the National Institutes of Health “We Can!” program. You can also encourage your teen to drink water with and between meals.

 Fitness Tips

  • Take a stand:  Being active doesn’t mean that you or your teen has to spend hours in the gym. Even standing instead of just sitting can help burn calories, such as when texting, talking on the phone or face-timing. The goal is to sit less, and then move a little more while standing – maybe rocking in place or pacing the room. Taking a walk together is always a great way to get moving, and if you can convince your teen to leave the phone behind you might have a great conversation along the way!
  • Move Together:  Encourage every member of the family to think of ways you can do things together away from the computers and TV screens to be more active as a family. You can include household chores like raking leaves or biking to the library to return some DVDs. Just be careful you don’t talk about exercise as a punishment. You want your teen to know being active is fun and feels good.
  • Go with the flow:Yoga is still “in” right now, and it’s hard to believe that it has been practiced for over 5000 years. Encourage your teen to try it with you, or download an app that shows some poses to start stretching and breathing for relaxation while improving fitness.

If you’re interested in more healthy lifestyle tips for teens, be sure to check out my other blogs on the topic: Healthy Eating Choices for Children and Teens and Winning Kids Over from Sugary Drinks to Ones with Less Added Sugar or Sugar-Free Drinks.

 I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

overweight woman measuring waistline with tape measure

Prejudice Against Overweight and Obesity

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

STUDIES SHOW GROWING ANTI-FAT BIASES FOR OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN AND ADULTS

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. We reached the point where the majority of us were exceeding our healthy weight in the 1990s. We also have very high rates of fat prejudice in this country. So the question that begs to be answered is, if the majority of Americans have been bigger than average for the past 20 years or so, who is perpetuating the anti-fat bias?

Anyone who has ever circulated a fat joke via email or liked one on Facebook can raise a hand.

Two studies published this month made me think it’s time to turn the mirror on ourselves.

It Takes A Village

Long before children have the math skills to calculate their body mass index (weight/height2 x 703) they show an aversion towards overweight children as playmates. (Body mass index, or BMI, is a measurement used to determine one’s weight classification. A BMI below 20 is considered underweight, between 20-25 normal weight, 26-29 overweight and above 30 is obese.)

Researchers at the University of Leeds in England found children aged 4 and 7 would select a normal weight child or one in a wheelchair before choosing an overweight child as a friend. The scientists discovered this through the use of illustrated storybooks. They created three versions of a story, each with a central character named Alfie. He was either normal weight, overweight or in a wheelchair in the different versions. After hearing and seeing the stories the children in each group were asked if they would befriend Alfie. They were far more likely to choose normal weight or disabled Alfie, with just one out of 43 children saying they would like overweight Alfie as their friend.

The same experiment was done with a female character named Alfina and produced similar results. In both cases older children expressed more negative views towards the overweight child, including seeing him or her as less likely to win a race, do good school work or get invited to parties.

These findings suggest children pick up on the social stigma against overweight people from adults and the media at a very young age as. The authors of the study concluded, “We have a real habit of equating fatness with bad and children are reflecting that back to us.”

Physicians Against Fatness

The second study on fat prejudice that came across my desk this week was done on medical students. It didn’t involve story books.

Researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina had over 300 third year medical students complete the Weight Implicit Association Test (IAT). This test is a validated measure of implicit preferences for “fat” or “thin” individuals.

The value in measuring implicit biases is that they occur at an unconscious level. They reflect our first reaction or initial emotional response to someone before our conscious thought emerge.

The students also completed another test to identify their explicit preferences, which are the ones we are consciously aware of.

The results showed that the majority of students had implicit weight-related biases, with more than twice as many showing anti-fat bias compared to anti-thin. The majority also reported they preferred thin people to fat people in the explicit test, with males twice as likely to report explicit anti-fat bias. Among students with a significant weight-related bias, only 23% were aware of it. More than two-thirds of them thought they were neutral.

The authors suggest these findings may be due, in part, to the fact medical students are learning about the dangers of obesity and may feel they should prefer thin people over fat. Or they may believe body weight is under an individual’s control so they may hold a negative view of someone who doesn’t do something about it.

Unfortunately, these results are very similar to those obtained when non-medical students take the tests, and they reflect the attitudes of the general public. Even those of kids in kindergarten.

Lead author Dr. David Miller said these biases can affect the doctor-patient relationship and must be overcome to improve care for the millions of Americans who are overweight or obese.

A good place to start may be by looking in the mirror.