Advice Column, Health, Tween & Teen Advice

Weighty Issues For Teens

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Being overweight is not a good idea if you have diabetes because it increases your insulin resistance, which will make it harder for you to keep your blood glucose levels down. If you don’t have diabetes, but some of your family members have type 2 diabetes, you are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sadly, obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last 30 years and this has created both health and well-being problems for teens. One out of three children and teens between the ages of two and 19 are overweight, or obese. The early onset of Type 2 diabetes is being noticed more and more in children and teens between 10 and 19 years old. Before the 1990’s it was rarely seen, but as they got fatter, more and more of them developed Type 2 diabetes

How do you become overweight?

The basic cause of overweight is an energy imbalance. Energy is measured as calories or kilojoules. If you eat more energy than your body’s requirements for the activities you do, then this extra energy gets converted to fat stores. If you get the balance right, your weight should be right for your age. If there is too much food and drink consumed on a regular basis, the extra calories will make your weight rise above what is a healthy weight for you.

All young people become more resistant to insulin during puberty, whether they have diabetes or not, but teens with diabetes have 25 – 30% more insulin resistance. The larger they become, the more insulin resistant they become. Gaining weight and insulin resistance progresses much faster and is harder to treat in teens than it is to treat overweight adults. This may be because of rapid growth and hormone changes in puberty. Also once a teen is heavier than he or she should be, the insulin resistance makes it much more difficult to lose the weight than it is to prevent the weight building up.

Anyone who has been overweight or obese will tell you that it has a huge effect on your emotions and social standing. Teens are sensitive enough in relationships, but if you are overweight or obese, it can make it so much worse. You may be sidelined, mocked, bullied, or stigmatised by other teens. This can have a serious effect on your self-esteem and social interactions. With the loss of self-esteem you could lose confidence in yourself and withdraw socially. Then you could become lonely, depressed and anxious, especially if you lose hope of the situation ever improving. You may become so unhappy that it has an impact on learning at school, and your performance at school could deteriorate. Your life will feel awful. 

Often teens are resistant to having a healthy lifestyle. You may struggle to eat correctly for various reasons:

  • During large growth spurts, you are always hungry and eat much more than before. This is not a problem in itself because you do need the extra food. The problem lies in eating more than you actually need or eating the wrong types of foods.
  • Most take-away foods are high in carbohydrates and fats making them high in energy. If you like to eat take-away foods with your friends as a social activity it is more difficult to refuse the problem foods.
  • It may be that your family eats take-away foods too often if both your parents work and are too tired to cook healthy food.
  • Sometimes the traditional foods that your family eats are high in carbohydrates and fats and it may be difficult to change those eating habits.
  • Boarding school food can be a problem if your school does not follow healthy principles of eating, but rather focuses on filling your tummies with lots of carbohydrates, like white bread. Or else you eat more food because it is available.

You may struggle to get involved in physical activity:

  • If you are self-conscious about doing exercise or sports because you are not particularly good at it, you probably prefer to avoid them. If you are overweight, you may be even more self-conscious and avoid exercise even more.
  • If you spend too many hours watching TV or playing computer games, which require almost no physical activity, you will be more prone to putting on weight, especially if you have a bowl of nibbles to eat as you watch or play. The less you do, the less you want to do.
  • You may not be able to walk or ride a bicycle to school for safety reasons, or because you live a long distance from the school, so taking a bus or a lift means that you lose that bit of physical activity for the day.
  • You may feel it is “uncool” to arrive at school on a bicycle, especially if you are a girl.
  • Only if you are keen on a particular sport and get into training on a regular basis do you appreciate the benefits of physical activity. Again, boys are better at participating in sport than girls.
  • If you have diabetes, you may be concerned about exercising if you are afraid you will have low blood sugars as a result.

How can you overcome that resistance? Look at the reasons why you are resistant to eating in an unhealthy way and why you don’t like exercising and think of ways you can get it right. It all begins in the mind! Get your mind right and the rest will follow. And then you will be even more motivated once you start on the right track, because you will feel pretty good for doing it and your diabetes will be better controlled.

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