Helping Your Teen Lose Weight

Does your teen weigh more than is healthy? Extra weight can cause health problems now and in the future. Being overweight can also cause emotional issues. Your child’s healthcare provider may have suggested that your child lose weight.

What causes unhealthy weight gain?

Here are the most common reasons why teens gain more weight than they should:

  • They eat and drink too many high-sugar, high-fat, low-nutrient foods, such as soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, French fries, candy, chips, and cookies.

  • They eat too much food (often because they eat for reasons other than hunger).

  • They don’t get enough physical activity to burn off the calories from the food they eat.

Tips for helping your child lose weight

Change eating habits:

  • Encourage your child to eat breakfast. Children who don’t eat breakfast often eat more in a day than children who eat breakfast. This can happen not only because a child is too hungry to make sensible choices later in the day, but also because of changes in blood sugar and the body's natural appetite control. For a quick breakfast, provide fruit, yogurt, or a snack bar. Avoid fast food.

  • Have sit-down family dinners every night, or as often as possible. Discourage eating fast food, grabbing snacks for meals, or eating in front of the television.

  • Teach your child to eat more slowly. Have him or her try putting down the fork between bites. This helps keep your child from eating beyond when he or she is full. (It takes 20 minutes for the “full” signal to travel from the stomach to the brain.)

  • Serve smaller portions of food. Then, wait 20 minutes after the first serving is finished before offering seconds.

  • Give your child smaller meals, but more often. This helps keep your child from getting very hungry between meals, when she is likely to snack on unhealthy foods.

  • Cut down on your child’s intake of fast food, chips and other snack foods, soft drinks, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks. Avoid having these foods and drinks in the house.

  • Provide nutritious and filling choices like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Increase activity:

  • Limit the amount of time that your child spends on TV, videogames, or the computer. A recommended limit is less than 2 hours a day.

  • Encourage active pastimes like shooting baskets, walking, hiking, riding a bike, or playing outside with friends. If outdoor activity isn’t possible, going to a gym or rec center may be a good choice. Active videogames are another idea.

  • Put a treadmill, bike, or stepper in the room with the TV. Make a rule that the child must be exercising while watching TV.

  • Encourage your teen to participate in organized sports activities. 

How to get started

You and your teen are probably used to your routines. Change too many things at once and you’re likely to meet with resistance or rebellion. It’s best to start slowly.

  • Let your child choose one change to start with (such as exercising once a day, having smaller meals, or reducing or cutting out sugary drinks or fast food). As he or she gets used to the change, add another one.

  • Be a role model for your child. Eat healthy food yourself. Cut your intake of fast foods, sweets, and sugary drinks. Have fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the house.

  • Depending on how much weight your child has to lose, a goal of losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is healthy. Ask your child’s healthcare provider what your child’s goal weight should be and how quickly the weight should come off.

Working with your child’s healthcare provider

Your child should see his or her healthcare provider for regular follow-up visits. During these visits, the healthcare provider can monitor your child’s progress and health. He or she can also help you and your child set goals. Take your child to the healthcare provider as often as suggested. Depending on your child’s needs, this may be every 1 to 2 months.

What is BMI?

Healthcare providers use a calculation called BMI (body-mass index) to figure whether your child is in a healthy weight range. The number is based on your child’s height and weight. If your child is very muscular or athletic, this will be taken into account.