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Adolescent Obesity

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Obesity is clearly a problem that has huge implications not only on the present health of those affected, but on their future health as well. Many researchers have examined the basis of this problem and how to correct it.

With a prevalence approaching 20% in the United States, adolescent obesity has become a common problem for patients, parents, and clinicians. Obese adolescents may experience physical and psychosocial complications.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of pediatric obesity treatment is modest in younger children and declines in older children and adolescents. Very few interventions involving adolescents have produced significant long-term weight loss. Nevertheless, novel strategies to alter their energy balance have shown preliminary evidence of benefit in clinical trials. These strategies include a diet focused on food quality rather than fat restriction, and a lifestyle approach to encourage enjoyable physical activity throughout the day rather than intermittent exercise.

Despite the typically complicated emotional dynamics at this age, parents can have an important influence on weight-related behaviors in adolescents, especially through the use of noncoercive methods. A key parenting practice applicable to children of all ages is to create a protective environment in the home, substituting nutritious foods for unhealthful foods, and promoting physical activities instead of sedentary pursuits. Other behaviors that may promote successful long-term weight management include good sleep hygiene, stress reduction, and purpose.

The obesity epidemic can ultimately be attributed to changes in today’s social environment that hinder healthful lifestyle habits. Thus, prevention requires a comprehensive public health strategy. This is a complex problem that we need to address directly and it is essential that we consider all of the factors contributing to obesity.

Though this article discusses the importance of the home, we are all aware that many youngsters do not come from ideal homes. As you plan how to practice many of the items discussed in this article, consider how you can have a positive influence on youngsters from families that are unable to create an excellent family environment. In other words, work in your home, but extend your efforts outside of your home to youth not fortunate enough to have excellent family dynamics.

Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media Impact Research.