For many teens, being overweight is a problem. It’s not just a physical problem that presents significant health concerns, but it’s also a social problem. The pressure to look thin and trendy is high among adolescents. In fact, adolescence is a time of discovering one’s identity and part of this is forming social groups that facilitate uncovering that identity. Not fitting in for one reason or another can be challenging and even debilitating to the mental health of some teens.
In fact, for those teens who are overweight, this might create a catch-22 type of experience. Being overweight can cause a teen to feel left out or unaccepted, and if a teen experiences rejection among peers, he or she might respond by eating, or even binge eating, adding to the unhealthy experience of being overweight. One of the large dangers that come with weight gain for teens is depression, anxiety, and emotional strife. Given the pressures of looking good and being accepted by their peers during adolescence, teens can be vulnerable to mental illness if weight gain continues.
Obesity is a physical illness in which there is excess body fat for the height and muscle structure for an individual. When there is there is a caloric imbalance – too few calories are being expended for the amount of calories being consumed, the body will likely gain weight. However, the amount of weight gained depends on genetic, behavioral, environmental, and psychological factors.
Along with the growing presence of eating disorders among teens, on the other side of the continuum, adolescents seem to be gaining more and more weight. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood and teen obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Between 1980 and 2012, the percentage of teens ages 12-19 who are obese increased from 5% to 21%.
Among those teens who are severely obese, there may be high risks of nutritional deficiencies. A recent study, done in May of 2014, exposes the risk of nutritional deficiencies for those adolescents who are severely overweight. The study included those teens who had weight loss surgery and those who did not. At least five years after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, those teens and young adults who maintained significant weight loss were at risk of nutritional deficiencies. These included being low in iron and low vitamin D. The study also found low iron and low vitamin D in severely obese teens who did not undergo weight loss surgery. Those who didn’t have surgery also had low levels of protein in their blood.
Along with having nutritional deficiencies, many teens who are overweight and who then receive treatment for their obesity, might continue to leave exercise out of their weekly routine. Technology is a major presence in the lives of many teens, keeping them close to the computer and away from parks and community swimming pools.
If a teen is seeking treatment for his or her obesity, treatment will often include changes in eating habits combined with increasing physical exercise. However, treatment depends on the severity of the obesity, the presence of existing health conditions and the vulnerability to developing certain health conditions because of the weight. Studies have shown that just a small amount of weight loss can lead to significant healthy benefits for those who are obese, along with emotional and psychological benefits.
Furthermore, prevention programs that address the co-existence of a mental health disorder, such as depression, and obesity are focusing on the fact that both obesity and depression tend to have an early onset. In fact, each of these disorders can contribute to the other, particularly in females. The treatment of one disorder in female adolescents early enough can prevent the other. It is indeed possible for obese and depressed teens to lose weight, to feel good about themselves, and live fulfilling lives.
It’s important for teens to know that they can indeed lose weight, feel good about themselves, and live fulfilling lives.