When Your Teens Are Obese: What You Can Do

Jan 28, 2020by Gabriele Amersbach

Teens pigging out on fast food

It’s not just the bullying and social rejection that teens who are obese face. Obesity has a profound effect on your child’s long-term health. While obesity rates among children and adults soar, researchers are providing ample evidence that serious illnesses linked to obesity, like heart disease and diabetes, are also on the increase.

As former first lady Michelle Obama stated in her “Let’s Move” initiative:

"The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. This isn’t the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved. So, let’s move."

–Let’s Move launch announcement, 2/9/2010

Encouraging exercise and better eating has been the gold standard approach to reducing spiraling obesity rates. Studies have shown that diet and exercise have an impact on the mix of bacteria in our gut, or microbiome. A healthier mix means less obesity, more energy, and better health, for teens and adults. Studies with prebiotic fiber like Prebiotin show that boosting fiber can support healthy weight in all ages and promote better long-term health.

According to CDC statistics, about 18.5% of children from 2 to 19 (or 13.7 million children) are obese.

What is obesity?


Image of boy on couch stuffing his face
Your child is considered obese if they weigh at least 10% more than what is recommended for their height and body type. Check the CDC’s BMI Percentile Calculator for Child and Teen to assess your child’s weight.


CDC statistics indicate that obesity rates can start as young as age two and increase rapidly into the teen years. Obesity prevalence is

    9% among 2 to 5-year-olds,
    4% among 6 to 11-year-olds,
    6% among 12 to 19-year-olds.

Hispanic and African American populations have the highest prevalence of obesity.

Studies show obese children between 10 and 13 have an 80% chance of becoming obese adults. However, even overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults unless they develop healthier eating and exercise patterns.

Teen Eating Tips: 7 Ways You Can Encourage A Healthier, More Fit Teen

Compiled from: Healthy Eating For Teens: 6 Ways to Improve Your Teenager’s Diet, yourteenmag.com;  NIH Take Charge Health Guide for TeenagersJohn Muir Health Nutrition for Teens.  

1. Stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy snacks.
Teenagers like to grab and go. If your refrigerator is filled with healthy snacks, that’s what they’ll grab. Try apple slices and small packs of peanut butter, carrots and Ranch dressing, whole-wheat pita chips and hummus, Greek yogurt.

2.  Make small food changes every week.
It’s important to read labels of what you have on hand; throw out unhealthy prepared foods and snacks, but start slow! Getting rid of everything your teen is used to all at once to will not be received well. Instead replace some foods every week with a healthier version to ease the transition. A great resource to make small changes is Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, by BJ Fogg, PhD.

3.  Model behavior you want in your child.
If your family’s staples are processed and fast foods, your teen will consider that the norm. Instead, have your teen suggest favorite ingredients for a dinner salad you all enjoy. Eat an apple as your snack. Limit processed foods. If junk food is not in the house, your child is more likely to grab something healthier. We are all into convenience!

Image of customer buying vegetables at an outdoor market

4.  Take your teen with you to the local farmers’ market.
It is easy to get excited about healthy eating in an environment that is full of colorful, abundant vegetables and fruits. Get your child involved in choosing vegetables for dinner. Make trying new vegetables a game.

If they help you prepare healthy snack packs for the whole family, you are also getting some “we” time with them.

5.  Eat together as a family at least a few times a week.
By placing a healthy meal on the table at a regular mealtime, you are reinforcing healthy eating patterns as well as encouraging family members to connect without electronics. Remember, the family meal can be brunch on Sunday or Saturday breakfast.

6.  Choose healthy fats.

image of nuts as healthy fats

It is common for teens to think all fat is bad. Some fat is necessary for the body to grow and develop and for healthy brain function. The best fats are oils that come for plants and are liquid at room temperature. Foods with healthy oils include olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Salmon and tuna also have healthy omega 3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 portions of non-fried fatty fish a week.

Nuts may reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Studies show that people who eat nuts live longer than those who don’t.

7.  Add walking and exercise to the family’s lifestyle.
Add a weekend walk or sports activity to every Saturday or Sunday. Ask your teen to walk the dog or walk or bike to school. And, don’t forget that cleaning the house, gardening, and washing the car count as exercise!

A teen should be active for at least 60 minutes most or all days of the week for normal development and weight management.

Why do children become overweight or obese?

Children reflect the family eating and lifestyle patterns. Although there can be many reasons for obesity in the family, from medical, to psychological, to financial reasons, the sad fact is that if one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance their child will also be obese.

Your child may also overeat because of the following:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Family separation and divorce
  • Peer problems
  • Lack of exercise

Less than 1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems. However, medications like antibiotics and steroids can make changes in the gut microbiome that can lead to obesity.

The Impact of Screen Time

image of teen using tablet computer

A growing body of research shows that all children are using massive amounts of media. Those with more screen time have been shown to have increased obesity, reduced physical activity, and decreased health.

In a 2014 study, researchers investigated three age groups of children:  4-8, preteens, 9-12; and teenagers, 12-18. In all three groups, psychological issues, behavior problems, attention problems, and health issues were linked to how much technology they used and consumed. For teenagers, nearly every type of technological activity predicted poor health.

Depression and Overeating

image of depressed teen

Since depression is linked to overeating for all ages, it may be helpful to examine why so many teens are depressed. About 20% of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood, but only 30% of those are being treated for it.

The lack of treatment has resulted in sobering suicide rate for young people ages 15 to 24. A teen takes his or her own life every 100 minutes according to suicide.org.

The reasons are a complex mix of social, cultural, and psychological factorsExperts agree that parents may be raising their children with unrealistic expectations about always feeling good.  Some have poor coping skills in an increasingly stressful environment; technology brings all the ills of the world in graphic detail to anyone’s cell phone with just a touch.

We are also exposed to higher levels of polluted air and water sources.

The increasing toxic load in our environment can stress our immune system and increase our risk for mental and physical health problems.

In “Why Are So Many Teens Depressed?” (PsychCentral.com), the author, Therese J. Borchard, sums up, “I think modern lifestyles — lack of community and family support, less exercise, no casual and unstructured technology-free play, less sunshine and more computer — factors into the equation. As well as our diet. Hey, I know how I feel after a lunch of processed food, and I don’t need the help of a nutritionist to spot the effect in my eight-year-old son.”

The Impact of Teen Obesity on Lifelong Health

Obesity in the teen years sets the groundwork for a lifetime of ill health. Common health concerns leading from early obesity include higher risk for heart disease, joint pain, sleep apnea, and an increase in type 2 diabetes.

When Teens Develop Diabetes

No more is type 2 diabetes the “adult onset” form of diabetes. A major study to assess diabetes trends in youth under age 20 found more cases of diabetes each year. From 2002 to 2012, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes increased 4.8% each year. Cases of type 1 diabetes in youth increased by about 1.8 % each year.

Prediabetes is also on the rise. According to a 2019 CDC studynearly 1 in 5 adolescents aged 12-18 years, and 1 in 4 young adults aged 19-34 years are living with prediabetes.

What can we do to keep our teens healthy?

Image of children running around playing

Children who play outdoors and have exercise as a natural part of the day when they are younger are less at risk for diabetes, have better general health, and make better social connections.

Diet also starts in the home. While the diet of teenagers is harder to control, how families eat when children are younger help teens make better choices as they become more independent.

4 Common Unhealthy Ways Teens Try To Lose Weight

Teens have their own ways of losing weight fast:

  1. Skipping meals.
  2. Cutting out whole food groups like carbohydrates, or “carbs,” although fiber-rich whole food carbs like bananas, kidney beans and chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and quinoa can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
  3. Smoking.
  4. Vomiting after eating, using diet pills or laxatives to lose weight.

These approaches can all lead to health problems and can affect the teen’s moods and healthy development.

Why add Prebiotin® Prebiotic Fiber supplement to my teen’s diet?

Prebiotin has been used in numerous research studies with adults as well as children and infants. These studies show that regular supplementation with a prebiotic fiber like Prebiotin can help your children control their appetite and weight and feel fuller.

Maintaining a healthy weight:  For example, a 2017 Canadian study, with younger children (ages 7 to 12) who were obese or overweight received Prebiotin mixed with water in their water bottle for 16 weeks.

Based on these findings, the scientists estimated that children who had taken the prebiotic fiber would gain about 6.6 pounds per year, in the healthy range. In the placebo group, they estimated a weight gain of 17.6 pounds, triple the healthy weight increase in a growing child.

Fighting depression: If your teen is feeling depressed or anxious, the answer may also be in their digestive system. The gut microbiome—the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that live in our intestinal tract—release chemicals that send signals to the brain and impact how our brains function.

If we have a healthy mix of bacteria, the signals sent to the brain allow us to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. A microbiome with more undesirable bacteria is linked to depression and a wide range of mental and physical health conditions.

To bring the gut back into balance, a healthy lifestyle, with plenty of exercise, good sleep, and a fiber-rich diet is great start. And if your teen is only willing to make one small change, adding Prebiotin to a favorite daily food can help to nurture the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Reducing diabetes riskEven the risk of diabetes can be reduced with daily supplementation of Prebiotin. A 2018 study at Rutgers found that patients with type 2 diabetes can lower inflammation, improve management of blood sugar levels, and have better weight control by taking prebiotic fiber.

"Weight gain from childhood on into the teen years can lead to a lifetime of health problems. As a parent, I found that by modeling a healthy approach to diet, including adding a daily dose of Prebiotin to our fiber-rich meals, my whole family has benefited."

– Greg Cooper, Prebiotin Director of Product and Business Development*

* Greg’s daughter Annie Cooper leads Prebiotin’s social media program and can be seen at YouTube and at Instagram with recipes and information about healthy eating integrating Prebiotin.

 image of teens relaxing in the bleachers after game