“Mark, I have a problem with my 15-year-old son -- he's lazy! He comes home from school, flops out in the easy chair, eats a bunch of junk, and watches TV or plays his video games for pretty much the rest of the evening. My concern is that he has no social life really -- plus he is now grossly over-weight. Any suggestions? Thanks.”
Approximately 30% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight and 15% are obese. For adolescents ages 12 to 19, 30% are overweight and 15% are obese.
Excess weight in childhood and adolescence has been found to predict overweight in adults. Overweight children with at least one overweight or obese parent were reported to have a 79% likelihood of overweight persisting into adulthood.
In addition to genetics, other factors contributing to obesity are:
- Lack of regular exercise
- Sedentary behavior (e.g., watching TV, sitting at the computer, playing video games)
- Low family incomes and non-working parents
- Consuming high-calorie foods
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating while watching TV or doing homework
First of all, let your son know he is loved and appreciated whatever his weight. Focus on his health and positive qualities.
Next, develop and implement a plan to gradually change your family's physical activity and eating habits. Let your son see you eating and enjoying healthy foods and physical activity. Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment (e.g., swimming, biking, skating, ball sports). Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities (e.g., watching TV, video games). Reduce the amount of “junk food” you will allow in the house, instead plan for healthy snacks. Encourage your son to eat when hungry and to eat slowly. Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
In addition, assign active chores to every family member such as vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn. Enroll your son in a structured activity that he enjoys (e.g., tennis, gymnastics, martial arts). Encourage him to join a sports team at school or in your community.
Other points to keep in mind are:
- Don't place your son on a restrictive diet
- Avoid the use of food as a reward
- Avoid withholding food as punishment
- Encourage him drink water rather than beverages with added sugars (e.g., soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, and sports drinks)
- Stock the refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables
- Plan times when you prepare foods together
- Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times
- Avoid rushing to finish meals
- Avoid serving large portions
- Avoid forcing him to eat if he is not hungry
- Limit fast-food eating to no more than once per week
This should at least get you started with some behavioral modification strategies as they relate to diet and exercise.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents