Should Teens be Dieting? Dr. Sass Weighs in
One of our frequent patients posed this question so we decided to a little Q&A with Dr. Sass himself! Enjoy her article and transcripted interview with Dr. Sass below.
Ok, as the mother of girls, I struggle with this…the sad truth is that childhood obesity is a serious problem for Americans today. Being overweight in childhood sets you up for a host of adult diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, just to name two of the deadliest. Not to mention self esteem issues and a general inability to enjoy life to the fullest. On the other hand, the “mainstream” media bombards us with pictures of airbrushed, impossible to live up, super thin girls and women.
While I enjoy my vegetables and exercise, I don’t want to spend all of my time running to the gym, or worrying about what I eat (which means I want my Trader Joe’s vanilla sandwich cookie without feeling guilty). So what’s a mother to do – just when should be worried about our kid’s weight? So we called in an expert: Sass Moulavi M.D. Medical Director of Smart for Life – aka Dr. Sass and asked him – is it ever okay to put a tween on a diet?
And here are his answers:
Q. Is it ever ok to put your kids on a diet – especially with girls – what has to do with the body naturally maturing vs. really gaining too much weight?
A. If the kids are overweight, and all parents should find out the child’s BMI, then yes, it’s okay to put them on a diet. The diet must be rich in nutrients and protein in order not to stunt growth. But the risks of staying overweight are much greater than going on a weight loss program.
Q. ****How do you know when to be concerned about their weight and/or eating habits? Who or what guidelines should you trust?
A. You must use the BMI scale adjusted for kids. Visit your family doctor or pediatrician. The USDA has a great BMI tool for kids or visit www.smartforlife.com/ChildrensProgram.
Q. What are some tips that any tween girl and her family can use for healthy weight management?
The key is for them to have a high protein, low sugar breakfast. Excellent examples are egg white omelets and Smart for Life cookies, cereals and granola squares. Cut out all sugary drinks and junk food. Increase the amount of green leafy vegetables. Eat small, multiple meals throughout the day. Never eat anything fried. Do one hour of exercise per day – anything counts (walking, dancing, skating, exercise).
Q. Overall, tweens get conflicting messages – on the one hand, the media shows us too skinny, but on the other hand, many Americans are overweight – how can parents reconcile this conflicting information and help girls have healthy body images?
A. Tweens often get conflicting messages. We want them to be a healthy weight. Once a tween knows what a healthy weight is for her height and age, it is very easy to get to that range. Many tweens will unfortunately think of themselves as too fat even when they are at a healthy weight. Parents, doctors, teachers should get involved in explaining to these young girls what a healthy weight is and that a certain amount of fat is necessary for a healthy body and a long life.
Q. What else should parents be concerned about?
A. Obesity is a big problem in America and children are not excluded. The main causes of childhood obesity are the following:
- Huge increase in portion sizes in restaurants, schools, fast food and at home
- An increase in sedentary kids sitting in front of the computer, television, electronic hand-held games, etc.
- Very powerful advertising from the food industry showing high-calorie, sugary foods that are supposedly “good for you”
- High fructose corn syrup being added to sodas, juices and many other foods that provide lots of calories, no nutrition, and actually make kids hungrier than they truly are, so they eat more
- Finally, overweight kids are now almost the norm. It is not unusual to see a group of kids where 50% of them are overweight. When such a big number of kids are overweight, there is very little incentive to lose weight because kids and their parents feel fine because “everyone else is like that.
Parents are the key to prevent obesity in their children. Parents must vote with their wallets and not buy poor quality, sugary food. Parents must lobby the food industry and government agencies for better quality food, labeling and healthier choices. Parents must educate their children on nutrition and its link to health just like they educate about “Stranger Danger”, Smoking, Drug and Alcohol abuse, even car seat safety. Parents need to set an example and share how some foods are bad for children. Schools should offer healthier food choices including white milk without sugar added! The medical community and insurance companies have to get serious about this issue as well and work with families, schools, and children’s organization to educate, inform and monitor children.
The worst misconception about overweight/obese children is that a lot of parents think that their child is not suffering from being overweight. Many children tell their parents that they are okay with their weight and it does not bother them. Absolutely not true. Studies show that overweight kids do suffer socially and psychologically from their weight. Think about the rise in bullying in the schools; kids can be cruel and this will most certainly impact a child’s development, physically and emotionally. It is imperative that parents do not accept this type of answer from their kids, but instead learn how to talk to their kids about their weight in a gentle and supportive manner. Acting as a role model, providing encouragement and motivation, and becoming an advocate for better nutrition will ultimately be one of the best contributions a parent can make towards their overweight child’s fight to lose the weight.