Saturday, June 26, 2010

Talking to Your Overweight Teen About Weight Loss

Guest Post by Michael L. Bishop, M.B.A., Ph.D.
Executive Director, Wellspring

Studies show nearly 90% of overweight teens become obese adults, bringing a heightened risk of medical, social, emotional, and financial complications. If your child has a weight issue, you may have already noticed the emotional impact: lower self-esteem, little motivation, social isolation, perhaps behavioral issues in school or at home. Studies have shown that overweight children are less likely to attend or graduate from college, and more likely to occupy a lower socioeconomic status as adults.

As Executive Director at Wellspring, the leading provider of effective, scientifically based treatment for obese and overweight adolescents and young adults, I can personally attest to the level of resistance some parents feel when it comes to discussing weight issues with their child. Parents feel that their child will become defensive and that broaching the subject will only cause a divide in an already stressed relationship.

In these situations, it’s the role of the parent to make the right decision for the child’s health. We advise parents to sit down with their child and explain the decision:

“Honey, I care about you so much. Nothing is more important to me than your health, and that’s why we’ve made the decision to seek treatment for your weight.”

In nearly 100% of these cases, once the child begins treatment in an emotionally safe environment where they are not being judged based on their weight, the resistance or reluctance lessens and eventually disappears.

A parallel can be made with another serious health problem such as cancer. If your child had cancer, would getting treatment be up for discussion or would you insist they are treated with the most advanced methods available?

A recent study by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirms that obesity can shorten life spans on average by up to 20 years, depending on factors such as gender, age and race. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control now lists obesity as paralleling smoking as the number 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. Certainly, if your child decided to light up a cigarette in your living room, this would not be up for discussion. Being obese while living in your home under your care should not be up for discussion either.

Parents today need to be proactive about their child’s health both at school and at home. You can teach your children healthy lifestyle skills utilizing these two basic concepts: 1) reduce your caloric intake and 2) increase your daily physical activity.

Wellspring recommends 10,000 steps each day using a pedometer to track your activity. Pedometers are inexpensive, and this is an easily calculated and measurable goal. Using a pedometer, the entire family can participate in many different sports and activities in order to reach your daily goal of 10,000 steps.

Activities can include a daily walk around the neighborhood after school or work, walking the dog in the morning, a family game of basketball or baseball, or even just throwing a ball back and forth in the front yard. Anything a family can do together that requires taking steps can be beneficial. The important thing is that activity is tracked and that 10,000 steps are completed each day, even when you don’t feel like it.

Parents can role model healthy lifestyles for their children by involving them with each step of the food preparation process. For example, parents can involve their children in planning healthy, well-balanced meals. Going to the grocery store with your child can be an educational opportunity if you ask your child to read the food labels and choose foods with the lowest level of calories and fat. Avoiding impulse buys and sticking to planned meals can role model self control and the importance of a low-calorie, low-fat lifestyle for your kids.

If simple changes like taking 10,000 steps per day or making healthier food choices are not resulting in noticeable improvement, you should consider more intensive, effective, scientifically based programs depending on degree of need: a weight loss camp for moderate need or weight loss academies for greater needs for changes. At these specialized programs, adolescents and teens learn how to control their weight in a supportive, nurturing atmosphere.

Dr. Bishop is Executive Director of Wellspring, the leading provider of effective, scientifically based treatment for obese and overweight adolescents and young adults. Mike is a licensed psychologist specializing in behavioral change who has lost approximately 100 lbs on the Wellspring Plan.


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