Obesity in teens costs the country billions of dollars a year in disease management and emergency room visits for heart problems and diabetes. However, the cost to teens isn’t as easily quantified; the problems that arise for obese teenagers range from physical to mental and can only be cured gradually over time. Below is a simple guide outlining three main risks associated with teen obesity and three ways to combat teenage obesity.

Causes of Obesity in Teens

1. Poor eating habits

More and more teenagers provide for themselves when it comes to preparing and eating meals. Most of the meals a teenager eats are provided at school. Sometimes these choices are less than healthy options, like pizza and French fries. Also available in many schools are numerous vending machines selling sodas, chips, and candy bars. Dinner may be the first and only chance a teenager has to eat a healthy meal.

2. Lack of exercise

Teenagers get little opportunity for physical movement during school, and with the elimination of many Physical Education requirements, they get next to none. This lack of activity coupled with the increased number of video and computer games keep teenagers stationary and unable to exert the energy needed to burn off the calories they consume.

3. Depression

Depression during adolescence is a major cause of many eating problems, but usually goes undiagnosed. Depression decreases a teenagers interest in normal activities and may decrease their level of physical exertion. A poor appetite may also result, thus making a teenager more susceptible to illness and obesity.

Ways to Create a Healthier Environment

1. Healthier school meals

Many schools instituted healthier eating programs on their campuses, emphasizing more fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. However, healthier food options unfortunately costs more than unhealthy food, increasing the need for local and state funding to address the provision of healthier meal plans. The replacement of vending machines selling soda and junk food with machines that offer yogurt, nuts, and granola bars will also help to reduce unhealthy snacking.

2. Increased physical education programs

Requiring physical education and health programs during school is an important way to contribute to a teenagers physical well-being. However, it is also important to emphasize after-school activities and exercise by encouraging team sports, intramurals, and health clubs.

3. Availability of counselors and mental health guidance

Access to counselors and responsible, trusted adults is important in the development of adolescent health. Although the provision of counselors in school potentially makes it easier for a teenager to seek help, sometimes the stigma associated with mental health can be a deterrent. Therefore, schools, parents, and communities must be open about emotion and feelings, creating a safe space for teenagers to vent problems and frustrations.

Although these approaches will not solve the teenage obesity epidemic, it will take steps to create a healthy environment that can reduce obesity in teens. With the cooperation of parents, schools, and communities it is possible to reduce obesity in teens and prepare them for a long and healthy life.