The first step to solving a problem is knowing you have it
According to an article in March's edition of Pediatrics, nearly 30 percent of overweight teens don't know that they're overweight. And if they don't know they're overweight, they're less likely to try to take steps toward becoming more healthy: Better food choices and more exercise, for example.
How the heck do we convince overweight teens to trim down when they don't even know they're at risk? Particularly in light of earlier research that show the doctors and parents also are lousy at judging a child's weight?
The researchers' answer: Clinicians should "consider their patients' perceived weight status" when counseling teen patients.
Gee, that doesn't make the conversation a whole lot easier. Not when you're already dealing with the emotional roller-coaster that is adolescence.
It's hard to imagine that so many teens today are unaware that they're overweight. A generation ago, it was difficult to avoid that harsh truth, because if consistently coming in last in PE class didn't tip you off there was always a classmate willing to taunt "fatty, fatty 2x4" and help you face reality.
While there's no need to return to the day when merciless teasing was considered par for the course of childhood, a few more PE classes wouldn't hurt. Unfortunately, those have given way in many districts to schools' budget realities.
So where does that leave us? Square on the doctors' doorsteps again. It's getting to be a long, winding staircase. The guys' pediatrician once joked that soon she'd need a poster board to check off everything she needs to during a checkup: Reading, juice abuse, excessive screen time ...
Somehow, doctors must find the time - and the courage - to pull parents aside and say exactly what the Obama family pediatrician told the first lady when a troubling pattern of weight gain appeared. "'You might want to think about doing things a little bit differently,' " Michele Obama said she was told.
That's such a tactful way to put it. Another tactful path would a focus on health issues - long-term as well as short-range - not appearance. With teens, doctors also could help them develop plans that let them be in charge.
Whatever we do, continuing to ignore the issue isn't an option. Parents, doctors and patients all have been trying that to one extent or another, and it's simply not working.
Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.
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