How Obesity Weighs On Teens’ Wellbeing

Whether you’re overweight, underweight or somewhere in between, weight is an aspect of health that’s on everyone’s mind—which isn’t always a good thing. Stress, anxiety, pressure, frustration, insecurity—you name it; we’ve probably all experienced a myriad of emotions related it. The reality is weight isn’t just a physical metric, but rather a mental, emotional and social experience.

Plus, the growing number of individuals considered to have excess weight or obesity—1 out of every 4 men and 2 out of every 3 women—is hard to ignore. Even for individuals who don’t necessarily fall into one of those categories, there’s pressure—both internally and socially—to avoid gaining weight or becoming a part of the statistic. As Megan Ratcliff, PhD, a clinical pediatric psychologist at GMC’s Center for Weight Management describes, “Overweightness isn’t just an individual issue; it affects the health of the nation as a whole. Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, contributing to health issues such as Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and some forms of cancer.”
Now struggling with weight issues in your twenties, thirties or forties is one thing, but struggling with serious weight issues in childhood or teenhood can be far more complex and serious.  With current statistics estimating that 1 out of 3 U.S. children and teens (6 – 19 years old) suffer from excess weight or obesity, there’s real cause for concern. “Many weight-related conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes, once thought to be adult diseases, are affecting children at an increasing rate,” explains Dr. Ratcliff. “For the first time in history, children have a lower life expectancy than their parents, in large part due to excess weight.”
  
Navigating Teenhood

“The physical consequences of excess weight are significant enough, but the mental, emotional, and social consequences, especially in the teen years, may be even more pronounced,” describes Dr.Ratcliff. “Children with excess weight report lower quality of life than their healthy weight peers and may be more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.”

Furthermore, we’ve crossed into uncharted territory, a time when children and teens are more exposed to media than ever before—TV, magazines, videos and social media. For impressionable children and teens, the images and messages they’re exposed to 24/7—idealizing certain body types—have a lasting impact. “Weight-based stigma and victimization in the form of bullying or social exclusion are real phenomenon that can have a lasting impact,” notes Dr. Ratcliff. “Overweightness and obesity in childhood is likely to track into adulthood without proper intervention.”

That’s why it’s important to address underlying mental, emotional and social issues related to excess weight, beyond just focusing on a number on a scale. “Helping children and teens to understand and love themselves as they are is the first step in helping them to become who they want to be,” emphasizes Dr. Ratcliff.

A New Normal

Adults struggling with weight-related issues may experiment with various weight loss strategies, from fasting and calorie cutting to specific diets and exercise regimens. But that’s not necessarily what’s best—or safest—for teens. Because children and teens are still developing mentally and physically, drastic changes in diet or extreme exercise can be unhealthy, even dangerous. Not to mention the negative impact it may have on their long-term relationship with food, exercise and self-image.

“In order to truly help teens with their weight-related health issues, they need to receive care that’s focused less on their BMI, or the number on the scale, and more on learning healthy behaviors,” explains James Lin, MD, a pediatrician with the Center for Weight Management’snew program, Wellness 180. “This is key to reducing the number of weight-related conditions that are rising to an epidemic level.” This approach is at the heart of the Center for Weight Management’s new program, Wellness180, created just for teens.

This program offers teens with obesity the tools, resources and support they need to build long-term, sustainable and healthy lifestyle behaviors, while also addressing their unique weight-related health issues. “To ensure a truly comprehensive experience, Wellness 180 addressesobesity from every side,” says Dr. Lin. “This includes a board-certified pediatrician, nurses, registered dietitians, behaviorists and a fitness specialist, all working together to reach our goal of a healthier future for teens with obesity.”

To learn more about what the Wellness 180 program, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/wellness180, or call 678-312-6200. 

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