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Overweight Teens

If you're a teen who's overweight, you're certainly not alone. In the United States, the number of people who are overweight is dramatically increasing. In fact, the percentage of teens who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. In 2004, almost one in five teens was overweight.

Why Are Some People Overweight?

Being overweight usually results from an "energy imbalance." In short, when you take in more calories than you use, you gain weight.

Poor eating habits can help make teens overweight, particularly if they live on fast food and high-calorie processed food. Studies show that many teens eat more high-fat foods and fewer foods with necessary nutrients (vitamin A, folic acid, fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc) than is recommended for optimal health.

Much of the time, being overweight stems from a combination of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. That means a lifestyle with too much time spent in front of the computer or TV screen and too little time being physically active.

Girls are particularly at risk for being overweight as they move through the teen years -- a time when they typically become less active.

Genetics also play a role in weight. If one or both of your parents are overweight or obese, the chances are higher that you will follow in their footsteps.

Sometimes, emotional distress can result in excess fat. Teens may make bad food choices when they are upset, depressed, or anxious, turning to cookies, candy bars, and potato chips for comfort. Stress may also trigger eating binges.

Problems with your thyroid gland may result in weight gain, but this is not a common ailment. In addition, weight gain is one of the side effects of certain medications, like corticosteroids. These are sometimes used to treat asthma, allergies, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

How Do I Know if I'm Overweight?

How much should you weigh? In years past, a height/weight chart was used. Today, most experts believe that body mass index (BMI) gives a more accurate picture of health. BMI is defined as body weight in relation to height. Calculating BMI can be done in a doctor's office or with a BMI calculator, which is available at many online sites -- as long as you have your correct measurements.

Teens with a higher percentage of body fat tend to have higher BMIs than teens who have a greater percentage of muscle. However, in a few cases -- such as with very muscular athletes, who might have high BMIs even though they are quite fit -- the BMI may not give an accurate picture of health risks.

And what's the difference between being "overweight" and "obese?" Being "overweight," defined as having a BMI of 25 to 29.9, implies being too heavy for one's height. Obesity, defined as having a BMI of 30 or above, refers specifically to having too much body fat. It is extra body fat, not muscle, that increases the risk of serious health problems.

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