The blind side of teen obesity

Here’s a startling fact: When it comes to weight, much of a child’s fate is set by age 5. And nearly half of kids who are already overweight when they start kindergarten will be obese by the time they reach the eighth grade.

And, if they are over the norm in elementary and middle school (ages 10-13), they have an 80 percent chance of becoming obese when they reach adulthood. This disturbing trend has landed American teenagers—about a third of them—in the overweight or obese category.

But what’s even more worrisome is that, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study, teens often underestimate their weight.

The NHANES study compared responses from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16 from two separate periods of time—1988 through 1994 (the early survey of “Gen Xers”), and from 2007 through 2012 (the recent survey of “Millennials”). The kids were asked “How do you think of yourself in terms of weight? And then the responses were compared between the two time frames.

Self-perception of being overweight or obese declined between the two survey periods. In other words, both generations didn’t see themselves as heavy as they may have been. And the Millennial group was even less aware of their actual weight.

Of course, it’s not very hard to understand how this warped perception is happening when nearly every other person they see is also overweight or obese. Their entire tribe looks just like them.

It’s as if society has forced teenagers to have blinders on when it comes to their weight. But the hard fact is, the mirror doesn’t lie. And neither does the scale. It’s just very sad— and downright dangerous—that our current generation has lost sight of what a healthy weight really looks like.

Any way you look at it, it’s a bad trend. When overweight teens don’t have an honest perception about their weight, they’re less likely to have the desire to lose any excess pounds. Which, of course, just precipitates the vicious cycle: eat more junk food and exercise less.

I first noticed this horrible trend in the 90’s. In fact, it prompted me to write my first book, Feed Your Kids Well to highlight the importance of developing good habits early in life.

As I’ve said before, my concerns about weight go far beyond superficial reasons. Overweight teenagers are more likely to become overweight adults, which puts them at a higher risk of cancer, diabetes and all of the other potentially deadly conditions I routinely talk about.

But if kids today don’t even realize something is wrong, how can they even consider fixing it?

It’s our job to set them on the right path…And to do it earlier rather than later.

A good start is to keep junk food out of the house, turn off the TV, and go outside with your child. Just a walk around the block is a great start. It’s also important that overweight kids and teens have the support they need—and helping them become aware that they are over their healthy weight (without being harsh or disparaging) is the crucial first step. [link to:]

This is a must if we are going to help this generation—and imperative if we are going to save the next.