pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Ways Teens Can Ditch Obesity

Anyone with their eyes even half-way open can see that the worlds populace is buying larger-sized clothes this decade than in the last.

And the airwaves and bookshelves are filled with scammers desperately trying to pay for their new sports cars by taking advantage of poorly informed and mistrusting persons inflicted with the obesity malady.

One THIRD of children 2-19 are considered overweight or obeseThose of us who are “weight-challenged” would like to blame it on our “genes” (or should we, because that would mean little could be done about it); but, at my last count (Jan 2016), there are 41 genes that we know are involved with weight gain to some extent.

More than two-thirds (68.8%) of U.S. adults over 20 are overweight or obese (BMI > 25). More than one-third (35.7%) are frankly obese (BMI > 30). About 40% of our obesity is felt to be due to genes and the rest to lifestyle.

Once and For All: Genes v. Lifestyle

First of all, let’s just clear the air about this. FIRST – only in the most abstract way do genes actually “cause” obesity. Not one gene ever force-fed anyone and weight would never be gained if there wasn’t a greater intake of calories than was “needed” in the body. Therefore “lifestyle” (and by that I mean eating choices) is clearly the major culprit (and remedy) of obesity.

SECOND – there are some genes we’ve known about for some time which cause “syndromes” with major issues in the metabolism of carbs, fats and proteins where obesity is the result. Those are extremely rare and almost uniformly cause more problems than just obesity. These syndromes are so rare they usually aren’t even in the discussion about the obesity problem.

However, THIRD – we now know of many genes related in much more subtle ways to laying down extra body fat which “set up” their unfortunate carriers to becoming overweight and obese if they are not careful and very vigilant.

That should make it crystal clear that ANYONE ANYWHERE with any kind of genes can become obese, strictly by how gullible or resistant they are to all the advertising gimmicks telling us that we should eat/drink more calories of any kind or do things that make us be more sedentary.

Incidence of obesity in children nearing that of adultsIncidence of obesity in children is nearing that of adults

The only thing new science is telling us is that we now know of many more gene changes that persons can be born with which may do things like preferentially store fat than to use it up. The more of these genes one is “blessed” with, the better they are at withstanding times of famine.

And, in our current world, the more resistant we need to be to “energy saving devices,” “quick and easy foods,” and “enticing, duplicitous advertisements.”

What About Children and Teen Obesity

If there is one thing that someone, somewhere should make absolutely sure our children learn about it is that: all of us two-thirds of adults who are overweight or obese came from people like THEM. They are not immune to genes any more than we are and the REAL question is what are they going to do about it.

Currently (2016) about one-third (31.8%) of children 2 to 19 are considered overweight or obese (using age standardized BMI values) and about one-fifth (16.9%) are frankly obese. Thirty-three percent of the boys are overweight or obese and 30.4 percent of girls. Eighteen percent of boys and 15% of girls are obese.

Occurrence by race is known for children 6-19. About 25.7 percent of black, 22.9 percent of Hispanic, and 15.2 percent of white youth are considered to be frankly obese.

So, lets talk about what we need to talk about to help our kids!

How Kids Can Ditch Obesity

It’s all about belly fat isn’t it. You might think it’s only an “old people’s problem” but it’s not. Poor dietary habits and lack of exercise is causing an alarming number of teens to pool weight around their middles.

And you should know that, for a teen, a concentration of fat at your stomach advances conditions not usually experienced until late adulthood, like: Type 2 diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease.

You want to get rid of it? Now, while it will be the easiest to do in your whole life? Remodel your diet and lifestyle. Here’s how.

Smarten-up About Advertising

Fast food, unequivocally linked to world obesity epidemic

“Smartening up” begins with admitting that you know advertising has a big influence on what you do and the choices you make. And recognizing that ALL advertising everywhere is carefully designed to coerce you into doing something that you wouldn’t normally do – for someone else’s benefit!

No advertising is ever your FRIEND. Period! It’s big business and our economy (and politics) seems to run on it; but, it is purely people spending lots of money because they know that they will be able to take their family on vacation to the Bahamas with the money you give them.

They have absolutely no compassion for YOU as a person or that what they are doing is making you sick or even die! You are not really that lazy or busy that you must eat fast food or any of the thousands of things they want you to SIT and be inactive for.

A recent study in England counted fast food establishments around home, commute route and work places of thousands of people and found clearly that “more exposure to fast-food advertisement and accessabiltiy makes people fat.” In essence, “if you put bucket of chicken and burgers every half-mile along the road even smart people get fatter.”

Satisfy Your System with Sleep

Teens should get 9 hours of sleep each night

No, sleeping isn’t a calorie burner BUT when you don’t get enough sleep your body produces hormones that actually increase your appetite! Crazy, but research on people under 40 who routinely slept less than 5 hours a night had higher amounts of belly fat.

Couple that with not being smart about food choices and reaching for sugary drinks and snacks for the energy boost – that’s leading to belly fat. Aim to get the optimal nine hours per night now recommended for teens.

If you seem to need more than 10 hours, check with your pediatrician because there may be something interfering with your good sleep – which can produce belly fat too.

Eat Your Veggies

Yea, yea, I know, that’s what your mom tells you. But you know, she can’t always be wrong. By the sheer law of averages she must be right at least some time.

You’ve got to realize that if you’re trying to remove or avoid belly fat there may come a time that you’re… hungry. Replacing high-calorie starchy foods on your plate with leafy greens or orange vegetables is what has your back!

Ordering a side salad instead of fries is a trick we use to keep from getting hungry and still get full – which helps with weight loss. When you lose weight, your belly quickly shrinks.

Get Out and Get Active

Most teens have no problem with being active, unless they are in restriction or “time out.” Here’s a little secret. Why do you think parents use time-out as a punishment? It’s cause they know no one really WANTS to be inactive.

Teen boy and girl jogging for exercise and weight control

Run, jump, dance, swim, cycle or whatever suits your fancy – they all burn calories… which helps your belly shrink. Turn off the television or tablet and take a walk after school. Walk your dog or join a recreation center where you can shoot hoops with friends. If you find something you like, ask your parents about joining some kind of league or group where others are doing it too – that’s always more fun.

Go Hard Sometimes

Getting more active generally is beneficial but regularly scheduled intense activities in even short bursts is like beneficial on steroids! It is what really cuts the belly fat even faster.

It’s called “interval training” and the reason it works so fast is because it’s what actually has been proven to alter hormones which make it easier to burn fat.

Here’s an example: go for a run around the neighborhood at an easy pace. Then, for a block or two, pick up the pace. Repeat the bursts 5 to 15 times during your run and the extra hormones will start kicking in. Intervals can even be done with a jump rope. The point is: work really hard for a minute or two then rest so you can do it again.

Switch to Whole Grains

This lifestyle choice is the easiest to make out of all of ’em: when you splurge to eat bread or pasta – just make it whole grain.

We’ve known about this since 2010 when the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” published a study showing that increasing your intake of whole grains while lowering your intake of white foods, such as white sandwich bread and pizza crust, is associated with decreases in belly fat.

Make this change while you’re a teen so it remains a lifelong habit.

Don’t Sweat the School Stress

You’ve heard it called “nervous eating” but it’s more than that. Since a research study in 2011, we’ve known that stress causes several hormones which stimulate over-eating, cause more fat to be stored AND direct that fat to the belly. Teen girls who report significant peer, family, personal and school stress are more likely to have excess belly fat.

It may have been different for your parents as teens but school and social stress causes the same psychological trauma. Try yoga or spend some quiet time in order to “not sweat the small stuff.”

Nix the Snack Mix

supermarket shelves full of junk food much trans-fat

Trans-fats are another thing that causes storage of belly fat. We’ve known it since a study in 2007 but it took until 2013 for the FDA to ban the stuff. However, it still lingers in a lot of packaged and restaurant foods – just skip any foods that list “trans-fats” of any amount or “partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient.

Stop for a Morning Meal

Some of you might not believe me so you decide for yourself. A study in 2009 of hundreds of overweight teens showed that those who skipped breakfast had much higher levels of body fat. You think you’re too rushed (see above about stress) then have a healthy breakfast such as: yogurt with a piece of fruit, whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter or two hard-boiled eggs with an orange.

Ditch the Extra Sugar

As far as a healthy lifestyle goes the least needed thing to buy at the store is sugar. Carbs are everywhere and in most “natural” and good-for-you foods without the need to add more to your diet. Adding extra sugar adds excess calories which, unless burned off immediately by a lot of activity, gets “planted” as belly fat. Reach for fruit instead of sodas, baked treats, fruity breakfast cereals or granola bars. Choose water instead of fruit drinks or soda.

Fill Up on Fiber

This is another one you can figure out for yourselves. A study published in 2012 showed teen’s who had a higher intake of fiber (even though they ate the same calories) had less accumulation of belly fat than those eating low-fiber. It’s present in whole grains, vegetables and fruits and seems to sort of “suck small amounts of excess calories” out of your belly. Eat more fiber and shrink your middle.

Give Your Meals Your Full Attention

Let’s end with one that’ll make you smile. “Being full” is more in the mind than in the belly. Researchers at Birmingham University gave a group of amnesiacs and a control group with normal memory a lunch of sandwiches and pastry then cleared it away. Ten minutes later they brought in another meal. Those with normal memory declined because they were full, those without memory ate again thinking they were hungry.

If you bolt food in front of the TV or computer you’re not giving the meal the full attention it deserves so it’s easy to not remember that you’ve had enough. Give your meal your undivided attention if you don’t want it go right to belly fat.


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