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An ounce of prevention: averting teenage obesity in girls
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An ounce of prevention: averting teenage obesity in girls

Experts suggest that teenage girls with high BMI may be susceptible to health complications. Mindful eating and an active lifestyle are some ways to turn it around

How to prevent teenage obesity in girls

Anusha, a 19-year-old female student from Chitradurga, Karnataka, was brought to Bengaluru in March 2023 following high sugar and low thyroid levels. She was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and teenage obesity. According to the doctors who treated her, it was a typical case of obesity in teenagers.

Anusha weighed 88 kg in 2023 and had been gaining weight at an alarming rate. In 2021, she consulted doctors regarding her irregular periods and increasing body weight. “We had to admit her as she had diabetes and her thyroid levels were low. For the last two years, she has been gaining weight,” her worried father told Happiest Health.

According to Dr Pavithra Nagaraj, consultant pediatric endocrinologist, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Narayana Hospital, Bengaluru, the root cause of Anusha’s problem was her obesity.

Dr Pavithra adds that unhealthy food habits and the lack of physical activity were the causes behind Anusha’s obesity. She had irregular periods, high blood sugar, stretch marks and rashes. To manage her sugar levels, she was put on insulin and advised to maintain a healthy diet. She also had a body mass index (BMI) over 30. 

BMI is the weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. According to National Health Services, UK, for adults, an ideal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2, whereas for children and young people, it is 2 to 18 kg/m2.

Teenage obesity causes

Dr Sapan Vinayak, pediatrician, Vinayak Child and Eye Health Care, Delhi, blames the sedentary lifestyle of teenagers, especially the overuse of screens for being a leading cause of obesity in teenagers alongside poor food habits. “Binge-watching along with binge-eating have become habitual for many youngsters. Their engagement with mobile, tablets, laptops and OTT platforms has indirectly led to an unhealthy lifestyle. This increases the risk of obesity among youngsters,” he said while elaborating on childhood obesity facts.

Heredity is another cause behind teenage obesity, adds Dr Vinayak. In addition, the following lifestyle issues lead to teens, specifically girls, being overweight:

  • Overeating
  • Eating junk or unhealthy, processed food like noodles, pasta and pizza frequently
  • Lack of exercise
  • Absence of a balanced nutritious diet
  • Genetic and hormonal issues

In addition, Dr Pavithra points out that many give in to overeating due to mood swings, increasing the risk of obesity.

What can teenage obesity lead to?

Obesity or being overweight increases the risk of health issues. In teenage girls, obesity especially can lead to gynecological issues.

Teenage obesity in girls can lead to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Polycystic Ovarian disease (PCOD), which may result in fertility issues in females. In girls with PCOD, the ovaries release many immature or partially mature eggs, affecting the period cycle. On the other hand, PCOS is a metabolic disorder caused by a hormonal imbalance because of an increase in the level of male hormones. Experts say that obesity and PCOD are a vicious cycle as the latter, too, can further cause obesity.

Dr Tulip Chamany, bariatric surgeon, Dr Tulip’s Obesity & Diabetes Surgery Centre, Bengaluru, points out that obesity can affect the menstrual cycle as well, as it increases hormonal imbalances in the body. “Hormonal issues like PCOD and PCOS affect the process of ovulation (the process of ovum release from the ovary), which may lead to infertility issues in the future,” says Dr Tulip while talking about teenage obesity in girls.

Dr Pavithra agrees and adds, “Obesity induces hormonal imbalances, which results in various health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterolhigh blood pressure and imbalance of thyroid levels.”

Body shaming and obesity in teenagers

Doctors also expressed concerns over body shaming and bullying associated with teenage obesity. “Obese teenagers can be vulnerable to bullying, body shaming and inferiority complex, which is a concern. They hesitate to mingle and prefer social isolation. This needs to be addressed” said Dr Suresh Chandra Hari, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, Citizens Speciality Hospital, Hyderabad, adding that the parents must consider consulting psychologists.

How to identify obesity in teenagers

According to Dr Vinayak, the signs of obesity in teenagers are as follows:

  • Excess fat accumulation on the truncal area (chest, neck) and thighs
  • Blackish discolouration on the neck and stretch marks on the thighs and abdomen
  • Snoring, sleep apnea (breathing disturbance during sleep)

How to deal with obesity in teens

According to Dr Tulip, “Exercise and food are sufficient to curb obesity in children whose weight is 5–10 kg over the normal range for that age group, as determined by BMI. If the deviation from the normal range is more than 15 to 20 kg, we can prescribe medication to prevent the body from absorbing fat from the diet. Also, obesity can be managed with the help of interventions such as the balloon procedure.

She further explains, in the balloon method, the person needs to swallow a capsule that forms a balloon-like structure inside the stomach. Hence, they feel full even after having less food and can lose weight. However, teenagers can use this method only for 3-4 months, following which, a healthy diet and exercise routine should be followed to remain at a healthy weight.

Bariatric surgeries are suggested only to those who weigh 35 kg or more over the ideal weight, said Dr Tulip.

How to prevent teenage obesity?

Dr Pavithra suggests the following measures to prevent obesity in teenagers:

How to prevent teenage obesity

Takeaways

A sedentary lifestyle leading to a lack of exercise, smart screen addiction and binge eating are some of the reasons behind teenage obesity apart from hereditary factors. One can lose weight through strict adherence to home-cooked food, diet and exercise.

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