Teen weight loss: Healthy habits count

Healthy habits are the key to teen weight loss. Show your teen the way with this practical plan for success. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Teenage obesity is a dangerous — and widespread — problem. Like any weight-loss challenge, there's no magic bullet for teen weight loss. Still, there's plenty you can do to help. Start by encouraging your teen to adopt healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

Have a heart-to-heart

If your teen is overweight, he or she is probably as concerned about the excess weight as you are. Aside from lifelong health risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the social and emotional fallout of being overweight can be devastating for a teenager. It can also be frustrating to attempt weight loss and have poor results. Offer support and gentle understanding — and a willingness to help your teen manage the problem.

You might say, "I can't change your weight. That's up to you. But I can help you make the right decisions."

Dispute unrealistic images

Weight and body image can be delicate issues, especially for teenage girls. When it comes to teen weight loss, remind your teen that there's no single ideal weight and no perfect body. The right weight for one person might not be the right weight for another.

Rather than talking about "fat" and "thin," encourage your teen to focus on practicing the behaviors that promote a healthy weight and satisfaction with body size and shape. Your family doctor can help set realistic goals for body mass index and weight based on your teen's age, height and general health.

Resist quick fixes

Help your teen understand that losing weight — and keeping it off — is a lifetime commitment. Fad diets can rob your growing teen of iron, calcium and other essential nutrients. Weight-loss pills and other quick fixes don't address the root of the problem and could pose risks of their own. Even then, the effects are often short-lived. Without a permanent change in habits, any lost weight is likely to return — and then some.

Promote activity

Teens need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day — but that doesn't necessarily mean 60 solid minutes at a stretch. Shorter, repeated bursts of activity during the day can help burn calories, too.

Team sports through school or community programs are great ways to get active. If your teen isn't an athlete or is hesitant to participate in certain sports, that's OK. Encourage him or her to walk, bike or in-line skate to school, or to walk a few laps through the halls before class. Suggest trading an hour of after-school channel surfing for shooting baskets in the driveway, jumping rope or walking the dog. Even household chores and video games that require physical movement can help your teen burn calories.

Suggest breakfast

If your teen fights the alarm clock the way it is, asking him or her to get up even earlier to eat breakfast might be a tough sell — but it's important. A nutritious breakfast will give your teen energy to face the day ahead. Even better, it might keep your teen from eating too much later in the day.

If your teen resists high-fiber cereal or whole-wheat toast, suggest last night's leftovers. Even a piece of string cheese or a small handful of nuts and a piece or two of fruit can do the job.

Dec. 03, 2011 See more In-depth