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Is My Teenager Overweight?

I remember being at a “Childhood Obesity Forum” a few years ago, when the keynote speaker started her talk by showing a photograph of wartime boys playing football in the streets with their shirts off. You could see the ribs of all the young lads, and she asked the audience if these children were underweight, healthy, or overweight. Of course, no-one thought they were overweight, but a significant number considered those boys to be underweight and, she reminded us that it is normal to see a young person’s ribs.

Today it is just too easy to be overweight. Food, and often the wrong food, is readily available for most children, portion sizes have rocketed, and it is easy to be sedentary. Even young people today are likely to spend much more time in front of a screen than they are to be outside running around.

We know that if kids start secondary school overweight, they are at increased risk of becoming overweight adults and that carries risk of serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. So, it important that we take the weight of our young people seriously, but it is also a very sensitive issue. A few months ago, I saw a young lad in surgery, who had been a little overweight. A throw away comment at a family get together from an uncle about his weight had triggered a strict diet regime, which was worrying his Mum and when I saw him, he was unhealthily underweight. He has had counselling and is on the mend, but his story is a reminder of the tightrope we tread when considering the weight of our young people.

If you are worried about the weight of your son or daughter, my advice to you, is not to pick him or her out as a focus for weight control, but to work as a family on a healthier lifestyle. I’m not a fan of putting young people on diets. By definition, if you go on a diet, you will at some point come off it, and when that happens, all too often the weight piles back on. It is much better if, as a family you can do some exercise together and make small changes to diet. Simply investing in smaller plates will mean you eat less and adopting a family rule whereby you only have seconds if you still want them in quarter of an hour can make a big difference. It takes about that long for the hormones in your gut to tell your brain you are full. If you wait that 15 minutes, you will probably find none of you really need or want more food. And remember, there is no such thing as a bad food. There is nothing wrong with chocolate as a treat, but if it becomes a daily habit, then chances are the pounds will go on.

Habits learned as a young person often continue into adult life, so adopting these simple changes, can make a huge difference.

Curated by

Dr Dawn Harper
Dr Dawn Harper is a practising NHS GP and has worked in the NHS for over 30 years. A member of the Royal College of Physicians she is also a TV presenter and member of the Hidden Strength Advisory Board: Dr Dawn says “Working as an NHS GP, I have seen a worrying increase in the number of young people suffering with mental health issues in recent years. The effect of the pandemic has sadly exacerbated the problem, so I was delighted to join the team at Hidden Strength to help combat the issue with such an innovative solution.”