September 16, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Teen Weight Levels Off, Habits Improve
Teens have improved some of their health habits, and excess weight has leveled off, the latest national survey suggests. The study was based on national surveys of kids in grades 6 through 10. The survey is conducted every 4 years. The first of 3 surveys began in 2001. The last one ended in 2010. In all, 34,000 teens were involved. They were asked their weight, height and questions about diet, exercise and screen time. Between the second and third surveys, the obesity rate leveled off and the rate of overweight teens dropped a bit. Teens reported eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets. They also reported having fewer sweetened drinks. They ate breakfast on weekdays more often. They were more active and spent less time watching TV. However, video game and computer use went up a bit. The improvements were small. And researchers said there's a long way to go. Most teens are not meeting the goal of an hour of exercise per day, for example. The journal Pediatrics published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it September 16.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Being obese means having too much body fat for a specific body type. You cannot tell just by looking at someone. Body mass index (BMI) is the best way to know. The formula for BMI uses how tall people are along with how much they weigh.
Based on age and gender, a child with a BMI:
The journal Pediatrics has just released a study online about overweight and obese teenagers. Researchers surveyed thousands of teens and preteens, (ages 11 through 16) all over the United States. The questions related to their weight, height and behaviors. The surveys were completed every 4 years between 2001 and 2009.
The researchers looked at trends in behaviors that may be related to obesity. They focused on:
Overall, healthy behavior improved. By the end of the survey years, U.S. teens:
The researchers matched these trends with the teens' BMI percentile group (underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese).
There were some differences noted by sex, age and race/ethnicity. For example:
This study seems to show that public health efforts may be working. These overall healthier behaviors by teens might explain why obesity rates seem to have leveled off.
The researchers say this is not enough. By 2009, the average teen still did not get enough exercise, watched too much TV and ate too much unhealthy food. Teens need to keep improving their behaviors. Then obesity rates might really go down.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Is your child overweight or obese? Ask the doctor to check his BMI. The doctor then can suggest next steps. She can work together with your family. She can also suggest resources in your community for healthy eating, physical activity and losing weight.
Remember, YOU are a role model. Your child is more likely to exercise and eat healthy foods if you do. You will be healthier, too! Here are some things your whole family can do:
Eat healthy foods.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Expect to hear more about your teen's BMI at yearly checkups. The doctor will give advice on the value of a healthy diet. The doctor also will encourage more physical activity.
I hope that following this advice will mean a decrease in the number of teens who are overweight or obese. We want to help children avoid these serious health problems later in life: