September 15, 2008
The news reports remind us constantly that the number of children, teens, and adults who are overweight or obese is remarkably high. This is concerning to health professionals with a variety of specialties.
Simple height and weight measurements plugged into a BMI calculator can offer a person the label of: underweight, normal, overweight, or obese. (visit
http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/index.htm for links to both the "Adult" and "Child and Teen" BMI Calculators).
Once people get a number and a label, it is then up to them what they do with that information. Determining whether people are healthy (or even a healthy weight for them) goes beyond the BMI number and the label. For more information about BMI, its uses and its limits, visit the Question of the Week: "Fit vs. Fat" from July of 2007, available at:
While there is more to being healthy than having a healthy BMI, this number (and label) can offer a starting place for doctors, and it can raise some red flags. For example:
"Obesity is bad news for both body and mind. Not only can it make a person feel tired and uncomfortable, carrying extra weight puts added stress on the body, especially the bones and joints of the legs. ... The health problems that affect overweight teens include:
- Blount's disease. ...
- Arthritis. ...
- Slipped capital femoral epiphyses (SCFE). ...
- Asthma. ...
- Sleep apnea. ...
- High blood pressure. ...
- High cholesterol. ...
- Gallstones. ...
- Fatty liver....
- Pseudotumor cerebri. ...
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). ...
- Insulin resistance and diabetes. ...
- Depression. ...
Luckily, it's never too late to make changes that can effectively control weight and the health problems it causes."
The fact that there are health concerns associated with obesity will probably not come as a surprise for most, but what about health concerns for those who are underweight?
"There's no question that being overweight is bad for your health. But being underweight poses health problems, too ... Health problems can include fighting off infection, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, trouble regulating body temperature and even increased risk of death."
Just as there are those who compare themselves to others and think they weigh too much, there are also those who see their friends growing and maturing at different rates and think they don't weigh enough.
Any time someone desires to take action and actively work to change their weight (whether to lose or to gain), they should talk with a medical professional. This not only helps the individual determine what a healthy weight would be, it also helps them determine a healthy way to reach their goal.
While the goal may be different, those trying to lose weight and gain weight can often both reach their goals through the same choices and lifestyle choices.
"The majority of teens have no reason -- medical or otherwise -- to try to gain weight. An effort like this will at best simply not work and at worst increase your body fat, putting you at risk for health problems. So focus on growing strong, not gaining weight. Keeping your body healthy and fit so that it grows well is an important part of your job as a teen. Here are some things you can do to help this happen:
- Make nutrition your mission. Your friends who want to slim down are eating more salads and fruit. Here's a surprise: So should you. You can do more for your body by eating a variety of healthier foods instead of trying to pack on weight ...
- Keep on moving. Another way to keep your body healthy is to incorporate regular exercise. ...
- Strength training, when done safely, is a healthy way to exercise, but it won't necessarily bulk you up. ...
- If you've hit puberty, the right amount of weight training will help your muscles become stronger and have more endurance. ...
- ... The best way to get the fuel you need to build muscle is by eating well. Before you take any kind of supplement at all, even if it's just a vitamin pill, talk to your doctor.
- .. Sleep is an important component of normal growth and development. If you get enough, you'll have the energy to fuel your growth. ..."
Eat right and exercise. Eat right and exercise. Eat Right and exercise.
The advice is not new. Most people have heard it. But some people find it a challenge to incorporate this into their daily lives.
"Some people think exercise and good eating require lots of effort or planning. But that's not true. In fact, the best way to work them into our lives is by making small changes that gradually become part of our routine."
Trying to change everything all at once can seem overwhelming. Gradually substituting one food for another, gradually changing one's shopping habits to buy one thing instead of another, and gradually changing the way one looks at food can be less daunting than making more drastic changes all at once. That said, it is not always easy if one doesn't know where to start.
"'By learning the nutritional "pecking order" among foods you enjoy, it's easier to make better food choices that optimize the nutrition in your diet,' ... For example, a white potato is good, but a sweet potato is more nutritious. Almonds are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, making them a better snack choice than pretzels. A whole orange has fiber that makes it much better than a serving of juice."
The gradual, practical changes to one's diet are the ones that are easier to maintain for the long term, and the ones that seem less like a "diet" and more like variety.
"It's also important to remember that the best way to start eating more healthfully is to make gradual, doable changes. 'Healthy eating is a way of life, so it's important to establish routines that are simple, realistically, and ultimately livable,' says [preventive cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, author of The South Beach Diet. To help you get there, Agatston and Bauer offer these tips:
- Set and stick to regular mealtimes, and avoid undereating and skipping meals. Hunger can undermine the best eating plan. Try to eat every 4 to 5 hours so your system is being fueled throughout the day.
- Get to know your 'hunger cycle' and start snacking strategically. Have a healthy snack on hand for those times you usually get hungry, whether it's late in the morning or in midafternoon. Instead of hitting the office vending machine, keep a stash of pre-portioned nuts, chopped vegetables or fruit, some low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers, or a container of nonfat yogurt.
- When dining out, avoid meals that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. You can find healthier choices at most restaurants, including fast-food chains. ...
- If you're filling up at a salad bar, avoid the 'crunchies' (things like croutons and bacon bits); limit cheese and mayo-based salads if you're watching calories; use only one small ladle or packet of salad dressing, and make it a vinaigrette or a low-fat variety.
- For sandwiches, choose lean protein fillings like roast beef or ham; use mustard instead of mayonnaise; and choose whole-wheat or rye bread."
Just as gradual changes to one's diet can make the transition to healthy eating easier, the gradual addition of physical activity can make it easier for people create a healthy lifestyle routine that they can stick with over time.
"Teens should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day. Note the word 'activity': As long as you're getting your body moving, it doesn't have to mean doing complicated exercises or hitting the gym every day. All that matters is that each week you get the right balance of activity, including aerobic, strength building, and flexibility exercise. Make exercise a habit by scheduling some every day. ... Just as you might have a healthy snack to stop yourself getting hungry, exercise snacks can keep energy levels high. So get up 15 minutes early and do some yoga or other stretching activity. Fast walk or jog for 15 minutes at lunch. Do the same thing after school -- or walk or bike home. Add to that taking the stairs, gym class, and walking between classes during the day, and you've probably reached your 60 minutes."
Questions of the Week:
How can you determine what a healthy weight is for you? How might a healthy weight for you differ from what would be a healthy weight for someone else? What small changes can you make to gradually create a healthier lifestyle for yourself? How can you encourage those around you to take steps toward healthier living? Who should you talk to when trying to determine what changes you should make--and how to best make those changes?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.