The A-to-Z of Health Problems in Overweight Teens

The A-to-Z of Health Problems in Overweight Teens

Overweight teens are at risk for arthritis and diabetes, which usually afflict adults. Learn about these and other health risks for teens struggling with weight.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

The burden of excess weight exacts a physical as well as emotional toll during the teen years. Overweight teens are more likely to suffer from an underlying medical condition, such as arthritisor asthma. They are more likely to be depressed (especially younger teens) or have trouble sleeping compared to teens of normal weight. Girls may stop having their period or have irregular periods. Teens who have any of these problems should see their doctor for a checkup.

All overweight teens should learn about the health consequences of being overweight. It's tough for teens to focus on more than the here and now. But, learning about the present and future health effects of being overweight can help motivate your child to reach and keep a healthy weight. A healthy weight can help reverse the risk of future medical problems and help manage today's health issues.

What health problems may appear in overweight teens?
High blood pressure and diabetes are usually adult medical problems, especially in those who are overweight or obese. These and other weight-related conditions are starting to emerge in the growing population of overweight children and teens.

  • Arthritis and joint problems. Carrying extra weight causes excess wear and tear on the joints, even at a young age.
  • Asthma. Overweight or obesity can make it harder to breath and raises the risk for asthma. Playing sports or even just running to catch the bus can be a challenge for a teen with uncontrolled asthma.
  • Bone growth problems. Several weight-related bone problems can affect the feet, legs and hips. Two of these are:
    • Blount's disease, in which the inner part of the shin bone, just below the knee, does not develop properly. This causes severe bowing of both legs.
    • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis, in which the growing end (epiphysis) of the thigh bone (femur) slips from the ball of the hip joint. This causes hip stiffness and limping.
  • Depression. Feeling down or having a low self-esteem could be part of depression, a treatable medical condition. Overweight teens who are clinically depressed may have more trouble making healthy lifestyle changes needed to help control weight.
  • Gallstones. Being overweight or losing weight too quickly can increase the risk of gallstones.
  • Glucose intolerance. Excess body fat makes it hard for insulin to get glucose (blood sugar) into cells. This problem is also called insulin resistance and can lead to diabetes.
  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against artery walls as the heart pumps blood. It used to be considered only a condition in adults but is being seen more frequently in children and teens. High blood pressure can damage the heart, brain and kidneys, no matter what age.
  • High cholesterol. Kids and teens with a weight problem often have high cholesterol as well as high triglycerides. This can lead to early heart disease.
  • Liver problems. Fat can build up in the liver and cause it to leak enzymes. These changes can often be reversed with weight loss.
  • Sleep apnea. People with this sleep disorder temporarily stop breathing when asleep and wake up to start breathing again. Teens with sleep apnea, like adults, have trouble learning and may be depressed. Sleep apnea also puts increased workload on the heart.

What can I expect from my child's doctor?
Along with treating any medical condition, the doctor will suggest a target weight and a safe way of reaching the goal. He or she may:

  • Recommend changes in eating patterns (for example, eating around the kitchen table instead of while watching TV)
  • Advise limiting certain foods, such as high-fat, or junk foods
  • Refer your teen to a registered dietician to help with nutrition education and meal planning
  • Advise cutting back on sedentary behaviors (TV watching or video games) while increasing physical activity, including organized sports or unstructured free play time

Sources:

  • Barlow SE, Trowbridge FL, Klish WJ, Dietz WH. Treatment of child and adolescent obesity: reports from pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners, and registered dietitians. Pediatrics. 2002;110(1):229-235.
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Families finding the balance. A parent handbook. Accessed: 09/01/2010
  • Swallen KC, Reither EN, Haas SA, Meier AM. Overweight, obesity, and health-related quality of life among adolescents: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Pediatrics. 2005;115(2):340-347.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight children and adolescents: recommendations to screen, assess and manage.Accessed: 09/01/2010

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