By: Laura York for Uterus1
For decades, teenagers have tried to assert their independence with rebellious behaviors like smoking. However, researchers have discovered that teens are now picking up the dangerous habit for an entirely different reason: to lose weight.
| Weight Loss Tips for Teens|
There are no short-cuts to maintaining a healthy weight. The only method that has been proven successful is the combination of a nutritious diet and regular physical activity.
Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
Avoid saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
Be active for at least 60 minutes every day
In addition to organized sports and traditional exercise, physical activity can be incorporated into daily routines by: parking or getting off public transportation at least 10 minutes away from a destination, assisting in vigorous household chores such as washing the car or mowing the lawn, or performing simple exercises such as jumping jacks or sit-ups while watching TV
A recent study conducted by the University of Florida, Gainesville found that teenage girls who start dieting are almost twice as likely as non-dieters to start smoking. The findings were not too surprising to lead author Dr. Mildred Maldonado-Molina, assistant professor of epidemiology and health policy research at the University of Florida, as it is well known that nicotine can suppress your appetite. The data used for the study was drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a school-based study of health-related behaviors. The survey was administered from 1994 to 1996 and included responses from approximately 7,800 U.S. students in grades 7 through 12. The researchers did not find the same link between dieting and smoking in teenage boys. Instead, cigarette availability was the leading factor in their decisions to start smoking.
On a positive note, the number of high school students in the U.S. who smoke has dropped since the survey was completed – from 35 percent to 23 percent. However, Maldonado-Molina cautioned that dieting practices have recently been increasing among teenagers. She emphasized that not all children who go on a diet will start smoking, but advised parents to “be vigilant and talk about it.”
Parents have a tremendous influence over their children’s behavior, and education is the best way to discourage kids from unhealthy diet fads such as smoking. Teens need to understand the severe consequences of smoking, including the increased risk of lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Smoking is also the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined. Although these reasons would seem to be enough to stop teenagers from ever picking up a cigarette, most adolescents don’t care about future health risks and think only of the present. They are more likely to respond to the short-term effects of smoking such as yellowing teeth, aging of skin, and difficulty with physical activity (due to impact on lungs).
Obesity has many of the same health risks as smoking and is rapidly increasing among children in this country. Although this subject matter is much more personal than smoking, encouraging teens to talk about weight issues and offering them support can open doors to education on safe, effective weight loss strategies. Teens need to understand that the way to lose weight and keep it off is through healthy diet and exercise (see Take Action box for suggestions). Quick fixes such as smoking do not solve the problem and are extremely detrimental to overall health.
Teenagers are much more likely to eat right and exercise if their parents are healthy role models. Planning fitness-oriented family outings and activities and making fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins available are good ways to encourage your kids. The earlier parents start communicating about healthy lifestyle choices and emphasizing the dangers of smoking, the more likely teens will develop positive habits of their own and go on to live long, healthy lives.