STAMFORD, Conn. -- It seems as though everyone is talking about weight these days. From schools sending home letters to parents about their children Body Mass Index (BMI) to magazines fixating on losing weight or embracing weight, it seems to be everywhere we turn.
Nowhere does there seem to more pressure around physical perfection than in the halls of middle school and high school.
According to the Mayo Clinic staff, while eating disorders can begin at any age, it is most prevalent in adolescents and young adults, and according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders more than half of females and almost 30 percent of males in this age range have used “unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.”
At the Health Centers we are trying to integrate a component which has been largely ignored in many previous obesity intervention programs. The emotional component behind eating cannot be ignored.
In the Health Center, part of the evaluation process includes further exploration of the significance of food in one’s life and perhaps emotional triggers which cause a child to eat whether they are hungry or not.
Additionally, we have ongoing nutritional education on an individual level with kids and also a school level, including activities at our school during March, which is nutrition month.
Every child who comes through our clinic has their BMI assessed and based on that information and readiness to change, we will work them to implement a healthy relationship with food.
While friends or family may notice a change in a teen’s behavior or in their weight and become concerned, there is a group that is often overlooked: the overweight teenager.
Overweight or obese teens are hearing from just about everyone that they need to lose weight, including medical providers. So when adults see the numbers on a scale going down and the BMI percentile shrinking, these teens are rewarded with praise, sometimes even incentives to lose weight. Adults are often so focused on the positive result that no one is asking about the process: how are they losing weight?
If you have a child or adolescent in your life who has had a higher than normal BMI and is losing weight, engage them in talking about what changes they have made, what are they eating, how much are they exercising, and most importantly, how are they feeling. Have meals as a family or with the child and pay attention to what is being consumed, and most importantly, let them know that no matter what their BMI or weight, that their health and well-being come first.
Amanda Harmon is a clinical social worker at Family Centers School Based Health Center at Rippowam Middle School in Stamford. Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Westchester County, NY, Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.
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