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. While there's no magic bullet for teen weight loss, 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.

To help get your teen moving:

  • Emphasize activity, not exercise. Your teenager's activity doesn't have to be a structured exercise program — the object is just to get him or her moving. Free-play activities — such as skateboarding, jumping rope or dancing — can be great for burning calories and improving fitness.
  • Find activities your teenager likes. For instance, if your teenager is artistically inclined, go on a hike to collect leaves for a collage. If he or she likes a physical challenge, try a climbing wall. Is your teenager into reading? Walk or bike to the neighborhood library for a book.
  • If you want an active teenager, be active yourself. Find fun activities that the whole family can do together. Never make exercise seem like a punishment or a chore. Let each family member take a turn choosing the activity of the day or week. Consider batting practice, bowling or swimming. What matters is that you're doing something active.

Suggest breakfast

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.

Nov. 27, 2014 See more In-depth