How to Help An Overweight Teen

Your teen's weight is affecting his health -- physically or mentally -- so you're concerned. Maybe he’s been diagnosed with a weight-related health problem, like high blood pressure or sleep apnea. Or maybe he worries about his size or faces bullies at school.

You want to help, but it's not easy for a parent to know how. While your teen might feel upset or angry about his weight, he may also not want you to meddle. As much as he may try to tackle his problems on his own, though, it’s important for you to be involved.

You can help your kid make changes to his diet and exercise habits that will put him on a healthier track.

Set the Stage for Success

A few tactics will let you set him up to make healthy choices.

Talk with your teen’s doctor about his BMI.

The doctor can calculate his body mass index (BMI), a way to measure body fat percentage, based on weight and height. She can compare the result with other teens his age. If his BMI falls within the overweight or obese range, talk with the doc about what his weight goals should be.

He may not need to actually lose weight -- just maintain and "grow into it" as he gets taller. But if he does need to slim down, experts say teens shouldn’t drop more than 2 pounds a week.

Talk with your child to get his buy-in.

He has to be on board and involved with any plan to lose weight. Your approach is key.

Don't tell your teen he needs to drop extra pounds. Talk to him. Ask questions like, "How do you feel about your weight?"

Then, listento him. If he pushes back, lay off the topic for a little while. Hopefully you'll have planted a seed for thought, and he'll be more open the next time you bring it up.

Be a coach, not a sheriff.

You have more of an influence over your child than you might think. The trick is to not force a healthy lifestyle on him. Encourage him to find his own reasons to change his diet or get more exercise.

Continued

Research supports ideas that may seem like common sense: Overweight teens don't feel happy about their size. They don't want to be teased at school. But they do want to feel in control.

Start with changes at home.

Help your kid succeed by making good changes for everyone in your family -- including yourself. If you single out one person, it won't work. He’ll feel criticized and punished, not motivated. Everyone in the family will benefit when you set health goals together.

Share your struggle.

Changes might be hard to make, even for the adults. It's OK if your teen sees you struggling to build new habits. Let him hear your frustration as you waver between a healthy snack like carrots and hummus versus chips and dip. Let him know that it can be hard to make the time and energy to go for a walk around the neighborhood. But remind him -- and yourself -- that feeling good afterward is worth it.

Set Up Lifestyle Changes

Help your teen tweak some of her habits. That can help her slim down and be healthier overall. The right amount of sleep, less time in front of the TV, phone, and computer, and stress-relief tricks all help her have more energy to make good choices. But you can start with a focus on her food choices and exercise.

Diet

The best way to change how your teen eats is to keep it simple. Start with five basic steps.

  1. Lose the soda. Swap those calorie-heavy drinks, including juices and sports drinks, for good old water or low-fat milk.
  2. Make vegetable and fruits easy snack choices. Keep them clean, cut, and waiting in the front of the fridge so they're easy to see and eat.
  3. Encourage breakfast every day. Teens will often give up their morning meal to sleep later, but that could mean they’re so hungry at lunch that they’ll overeat or give into junk-food cravings. So hand her something to eat on the way to school, like a smoothie made out of yogurt and fresh fruit, or an apple and a wedge of cheese.
  4. Don't keep junk food in the house. Although you have limited control of what your teen eats outside your walls, you can keep the bad stuff off the menu in your home.
  5. Eat at home. Restaurant foods have an average of 33% more calories than the same meal cooked at home, research shows. One study found that the more often a family ate together, the less likely a teen was to be overweight.

Exercise

Health experts recommend that teens get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. But if your child isn’t too active now, she’ll need to build up to that goal. Try these tactics to get her moving:

  • Help her set small, achievable goals. It’s fine to start with 10 minutes a day -- as long as she does it. Then have her slowly add a few minutes every day. When she succeeds with small steps, she’ll build her self-confidence and stay motivated.
  • Get the whole family involved. Take family hikes, or go on bike rides together. Keep jump ropes and hand weights around the home. Get pedometers for everyone to help you all take more steps. It’s easier for a teen to move more if everyone is doing it together.

Continued

Tips for Parents

Major lifestyle changes that affect the whole family can be daunting -- and your teen may push back at first. These tips can help you keep things moving forward.

Don't change everything at once.

Don't suddenly outlaw all sweets, demand 2-hour jogs, and hide the video-game console in the garage. That will backfire and set your teen up for failure. Start with the simplest changes -- ones that your child can complete and feel good about. Focus on doing them every day, and then encourage them to do more over time. You may want to consider family challenges or a reward system.

Don't micro-manage.

If you comment on every bite she puts in her mouth, she's likely to get angry and withdraw. You’ll also damage her confidence in her own decision-making. She’s trying to make some big changes in her life, and it will take time. She'll slip up here and there, and that's normal. What you want to see is progress, so try to keep the big picture in mind.

Stress a positive body image.

In our popular media, thin is beautiful. That’s hard for a heavy kid. You can’t change culture or what she sees online. But you can emphasize what's important. Comment on your teen's strengths and positive qualities regularly. Let her know that she is wonderful, and you love her unconditionally. Help her see that the people who make judgments based on looks are not seeing her for who she is.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on April 26, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: 

Lawrence Cheskin, MD, associate professor, Johns Hopkins Medical School; director, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Baltimore.

William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

Karen Donato, SM, coordinator, Overweight and Obesity Research Applications, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Dan Kirschenbaum, PhD, vice president, Clinical Services, Wellspring -- a division of CRC Health; director, Center for Behavioral Medicine & Sport Psychology, Chicago; professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago.

Kristen Liebl, LRD, Sanford Medical Center, Fargo, N.D.

Ann O. Scheimann, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Baltimore.

Michelle Van Beek, MD, pediatrician, Weight Management Clinic, Sanford Children's Clinic, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Kirschenbaum, D. Obesity Management, February 2009.

Kelly, K. Obesity Reviews, Jan. 12, 2010.

Rodearmel, S. American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2007.

Stice, E. Psychological Bulletin, 2006.

US Preventive Services Taskforce, Pediatrics, February 2010.

Barlow, S. Pediatrics, 2007.

Taveras, E. Obesity Research, May 2005.

Hettema, J. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2005.

American Medical Association: "Expert Committee Recommendations on the Assessment, Prevention and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity."

My Overweight Child: "What About Over-the-Counter Weight Loss Pills?"

USDA: "America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences."

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination

Kids BMI Calculator

Find your child's healthy weight.

Calculate