Obesity: Teen Health Crisis or Healthy at any Weight?
Jaissa Feliz, 16
Bi Li, 15
People throw around the term "obesity" pretty easily these days. In a world so often focused on losing weight and being thin, anyone with a few extra pounds on them may end up being called "obese." Yet, if a doctor's tests determine that you are obese, you need to be aware of the health risks that obesity can produce.
But there are more factors besides weight that determine your health. People can be different shapes, sizes, and weights due to culture, genetics, or preference. Obviously not everyone is thin, not everyone can be, and not everyone wants to be! Some say you can be healthy at any weight "“ what do you think?
What Is Obesity?
The most common method used to determine obesity is weighing oneself on a scale. But this isn't very accurate. A more useful way to determine obesity is the body mass index or the BMI. Obesity is defined as having a BMI â‰¥ 30. The formula for finding your BMI is to divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height in meters squared. Now, Americans don't usually use the metric system, so the translation is to multiply your weight in pounds by 703, then divide the result by your height in inches, and divide that result by your height in inches again. Got it?
For example, Jatara weights 135 pounds and is 5 foot 2 inches tall, so her BMI would be:
135 pounds x 703 = 94905 Ã· 62 inches = 1530.73 Ã· 62 inches = 24.7
Jatara is not obese.
How Does Obesity Develop?
There are ways to curb this health problem, and it all starts with knowing the facts.
What's the difference between being "obese" or just being "overweight"?
The important thing to remember is that obesity is more severe than being overweight. People who are obese are 20 percent or more above their ideal body weight. Being overweight applies to people who are above their ideal body weight.
What leads to obesity?
There are many factors that contribute to obesity, and most people who suffer from obesity are influenced by more than one factor:
- First and foremost is excessive food. Of course, everyone needs food, and it should be something that we all enjoy, but like all things, food needs to be consumed in moderation—meaning that it's important to eat well-balanced meals. Don't deprive yourself, but don't overindulge, either.
- Not exercising is another big factor. Even if you don't consider yourself an athlete, it's important to be active and not spend a lot of time sitting around. Exercise, along with a healthy diet, is one of the most effective ways to fight obesity. Even things as simple as walking instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can have a positive impact on your overall health.
- Genetics is another key player. Just like green eyes or brown hair, certain things can be passed down from parent to child. But just because someone in your family is overweight doesn't mean that you will be too.
- Recent studies show that not getting enough sleep can add to your possibility of becoming obese. If your body does not have enough rest, it does not produce enough leptin*, which may make you feel hungrier. You may develop cravings, especially for fatty foods and sweets.
- But obesity often goes deeper than just too much food and not enough exercise. Often, people who are obese don't simply eat unhealthy foods, they have unhealthy relationships with food. Sometimes eating a lot seems like the easiest way to deal with stress or negative emotions. People often use food as a comfort in their lives.
*Leptin: a hormone that controls your hunger.
Be Proud, Be Beautiful
Are you a teen who is overweight or obese? Do you get teased about it? Well, I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. I'm a teen much like the rest of you. I have two eyes, a nose, lips, two ears, all 10 fingers and all 10 toes, but the only thing that makes me different from some kids is my weight. My weight is too high.
Now, I'm not obese, but I am overweight. I may not look it that much because I'm tall, but I still have my rolls, big thighs, stretch marks, and cellulite around my rear. I don't have as many friends as I would like to, but it's better than having none. And to be honest, no one really wants to be friends with the new "big" girl, do they? Sometimes when I look at me and my friends in the mirror or in pictures I see two little twigs and one heavy branch.
As much as I would like to write that my weight doesn't affect me, that wouldn't be true. My weight does affect me. Everyone's weight affects them. It affects our attitude, self-esteem, the activities we do, and biggest of all, our social life—well, at least it affects mine. There's a big dance coming up at our school and as far as I know none of the guys have asked any of us
"big" girls. To tell the truth I don't think anybody knows how we really feel when we don't get asked or talked to that much.
I sometimes don't like that I'm "fat," because I get teased and called names. Then sometimes I do like my bigger body. I like the fact that I have more curves than all those skinny girls. They may get to wear all those tight, skimpy, mini skirts and halter tops, and show legs and flat stomachs, but we get to show off every curve on our bodies. I'm not saying go and put on a pair of tight pants and a short top. I'm saying dress nice, pump up your attitude, and show off those curves. Pay no attention to what people say. Be proud of your stretch marks. And if you're looking for a good book to read about being fat, I recommend Life in the Fat Lane, by Cherie Bennet. All hail the big people!
What is Fat Acceptance?
Weight issues and fat discrimination aren't new to America. Back in 1969, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was founded to fight back against the negative attitudes towards overweight people, and discrimination that fat people suffer. Sometimes called the Fat Liberation Movement, several other organizations and programs such as Fat Underground, the International Size Acceptance Association, Phat Camp, and others have continued to make the case that bigger bodies are beautiful and shouldn't all be assumed to be unhealthy.
Within the movement, there are various attitudes towards weight loss. Some believe that dieting and weight loss are not necessary, while others believe it's OK to lose weight but it's not OK to discriminate against people who are fat. On the health issue, the fat acceptance movement has promoted the slogan "health at any size" and encourages all people to be healthy no matter how much they weigh.
I'm Fat—So What?
Heather Wendel, 19
I am used to being called names. The most popular nickname for me is "Heifer." I have been overweight my whole life. I know I will never be the weight I have always dreamed of. I am five feet five inches and weigh 160 pounds. But I weighed 210 pounds two years ago. I am proud that I have lost that much weight because I knew I was really overweight and unhealthy. I dropped many sizes. I used to wear size 22 jeans, and now I wear size 16 jeans.
I remember when a boy called me fat. I told him, "Yes, I know that." My friends told me that I should not have taken that. I did not care. Really, I did not. But they said I should care. Then one girl stood up to the boy and told him off. I was surprised to see that. They made me cry because that whole day they kept saying I should care about it.
If anyone tells you that you're fat, say "I am in good shape, round is a shape." That is my favorite quote. Another one is, "The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat are really good friends." I love that one.
I dislike it when people who wear size 6 or 7 say that they are fat. A girl at my school, who probably is the skinniest girl in the class, thinks she is fat. She pulls up her shirt just above her stomach to show the "fat." There is nothing there. I do not even have to lift my shirt to show that I am fat. I am proud to be fat and in shape!
How Does Obesity Affect Teens?
Obese teens have a whole different lifestyle than other teens. There are social as well as medical difficulties that go along with obesity. Whether it is a heart condition or a self-esteem problem, obesity can have serious effects on teens' lives.
- Diabetes: Obesity is the cause of Type 2 diabetes* for 97 percent of people who are diagnosed with it. Specialists have even nicknamed the condition "diabesity." Children and teens who are obese tend to have higher glucose* levels. A high glucose level is the main cause of diabetes.
- Asthma: Many obese people have trouble climbing stairs or walking long distances, because they have trouble carrying their weight. These people may find themselves taking small, short breaths, just like when you exercise. This kind of breathing may lead to respiratory problems that could turn into asthma.
- Heart Problems: When you're obese, the area around your heart becomes surrounded by fat, preventing blood from being able to reach your heart easily. Because of this, your heart can become strained, and you may develop serious blood conditions, such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure*, and high cholesterol*.
*Type 2 Diabetes: this type of diabetes occurs when your body resists insulin (a hormone that controls the amount of sugar in your body). It can be controlled by diet.
*Glucose: a sugar that is the main source of energy for your body.
*High blood pressure: when there is too much pressure on the blood as it pushes against the arteries, can cause a heart attack.
*Cholesterol: A waxy, fat-like substance found in the blood and in all cells of the body, also comes from eating foods taken from animals. If you eat foods with too much cholesterol, it may build up in blood vessel walls and block blood flow to tissues and organs.
- Embarrassment: Obese teens often have to deal with experiences such as walking into a room where everyone is whispering about them, or sitting down on the bus or at the movies and having people move away from them. Even though it's not the teen's fault, these types of situations make her feel embarrassed, because her weight is the center of attention "“ and not in a good way.
- Low self-esteem: Another feeling that can come from being obese is low self-esteem. Obese teens may look around them and feel that they are the "odd one out." They may start feeling badly about themselves and the way they look, because they don't look like everyone else. Depression: These feelings may contribute to a teen developing depression, which could become a long-term problem if not addressed.
She Gets It!
M Torres, 12
I have had more than my fair share of people making fun of me because I am obese or just heavier than them. I am tired of it. I am a proud Latina and I live in a big suburb in Los Angeles, California. Most of my teasing came from classmates when I was in elementary school; I have learned to shield myself. Sometimes the teasing was from my family, even though they said they didn't mean it.
But slowly I have learned to break out of that shield. I fully broke out one day at the pool when I told my cousin I liked her bathing suit. I asked her if she thought it would look good on me. She looked at me and said no. I asked her if it was because I was sort of fat and she said, "No, don't say that." I told her it was true. She then told me it would not look good because I am a brunette and it was not my color.
From now on she supports me and knows I am self-conscious of my body. She's even helped me lose weight. So I just want to tell you: there are people out there who understand!
The Medical Facts Behind Obesity
Teen Voices sat down with Dr. Nancy Norman, Medical Director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). She answered all the questions we had about obesity, and offered her own perspective on why obesity is a growing issue for American teens.
Teen Voices: Why are so many teens obese?
Dr. Nancy Norman: Obesity in the United States of America is a cultural thing. Nowadays in the U.S., fast food restaurants are very easy to get to; they are everywhere. Many people make poor dietary choices, not even conscious choices, and lack of exercise also plays a role in this growing trend. Teens move around less because of the time they spend playing computer games and watching television.
TV: What do you think about reduced-fat products?
Dr. Norman: Grocery stores now sell more and more reduced-fat, fat-free, or "natural" products. These products are more expensive than the regular products, and they may not always be healthier. The emphasis should be on good nutrition and eating fresh foods—like more fresh fruits and veggies.
TV: What is the difference between obesity and being overweight?
Dr. Norman: Many people use the terms "obese" and "overweight" interchangeably, but they are two different things. A formula called the Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to measure the amount of body fat in a person by comparing her height to her weight. A person with a BMI of more than 30 is considered obese.
Obese adults have a three to five time greater risk for certain diseases than a healthy-weight adult, while overweight adults are only one time more at risk. There are also potential medical issues associated with obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and joint problems. In general, the more weight you have, the greater the risk for these problems.
TV: What happens to your body when you are obese?
Dr. Norman: Hormones in the body of an obese person tend to work a little differently than those of a healthy-weight adult. They may produce more, less, or different chemicals to support the body. The tissues in the heart and lungs must work harder as well. Sleep and libido* can also be affected.
TV: What makes obesity different for teens than adults?
Dr. Norman: The "teen world" can be harsher than the "adult world," and it is easier for adults to accept teasing about weight issues. Teens are especially vulnerable, because they are still developing self-confidence and self-esteem. It is more difficult for a teen to handle comments and jokes about her weight. Medically, being obese may be easier for teens than for adults because the adult may have been obese for a longer period of time. For example, an adult who has been obese for 20 years would have a much harder time trying to lose the weight than a child who has been obese for only 10 years.
TV: What is the first step an obese teen should take to change her lifestyle?
Dr. Norman: The first step is inner work. You should start to improve self-esteem and start loving yourself. You may need support from peers and family, but you must also know how to treasure yourself. Before attempting a tremendous workout plan, you should consult your doctor. Go to the doctor you feel most comfortable with.
TV: Are people sometimes too big to exercise?
Dr. Norman: Never! You can never be too heavy to exercise; however, it can depend on how you define exercise. If someone who doesn't do much (or any exercise at all) starts walking up a flight of stairs per week, it is already a big accomplishment. Get moving! Walk! Try a flight of stairs. Start slowly. If you get short of breath, stop. Some gyms won't allow an obese person to exercise there, unless they get a medical reference stating that the person is in a good medical condition to exercise.
*Libido: sexual desire
For More Info
The Don't Diet, Live-It Workbook: Healing Food, Weight and Body Issues, by Andrea LoBue and Marsea Marcus
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