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The do’s and don’ts of healthy weight loss for teens

Good nutrition and regular physical activity are effective lifestyle changes that will set your teen on a road towards better health.

It’s a little more difficult to tell if a teen is overweight than it is for adults. This is because teenagers are still developing and growing. Excess fat is something millions of teenagers battle every day.

We chat with Affinity Health – providers of affordable health coverage for all South African – about how good nutrition and regular physical activity are simple but immensely effective lifestyle changes for better teen health.

The dangers of obesity in teens

Adolescence is a critical period for onset obesity and obesity-associated morbidity in later life. Studies cite that being overweight negatively impacts your teen’s physical and psychological well-being. It increases their risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, and many different types of cancer.

Other conditions associated with being overweight and obese in adolescence include:

  • The risk of developing asthma
  • An increase in the severity of existing asthma
  • Low-grade systemic inflammation
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Early-onset of puberty
  • Skeletal abnormalities
  • Fatty liver disease

The importance of losing weight the healthy way

While many different weight loss solutions are offering a quick fix, most are not suitable for teenagers. Many diet pills, for example, have been banned by the FDA because of harmful side effects. The associated dangers include an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Restricted eating may also be a concern for some teens. This is because eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and AFRID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) occur most frequently in this age group. Hunger can also affect a teen’s education, as they may find it difficult to concentrate in class. If your teen is trying to shed extra kilos, it’s essential to lose weight the healthy way by making diet and lifestyle changes that nourish growing bodies and can be followed long term.

Healthy habits Count

“If your teen is trying to lose weight, it’s important to ensure they are still getting their recommended daily nutrient quota. Failing to do so could have an impact on their growth and development,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health. Hewlett continues to say that encouraging your teenager to adopt healthy lifestyle habits rather than restricting their food intake is the best – and safest – weight-management strategy. “The best way to find out if your teen is at a healthy weight or if they need to lose weight is to talk to an expert on diet and nutrition. They will compare your teen’s weight with healthy norms to help them set realistic goals.”

In addition to talking to your family doctor, Hewlett recommends the 10 following tips:

  1. Having a realistic weight goal can be helpful for some teens. This will improve the quality of their diet, and increased physical activity can be much more effective overall.
  2. Instead of investing in a weight scale, track your teen’s progress by their favourite pair of jeans. If they start to feel looser around the waist, your teen will know they’re on the right track.
  3. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to lose excess weight is to cut back on sugar. High-sugar foods and sweetened beverages not only drive hunger but may negatively impact academic performance, sleep, and mood in teens.
  4. Encourage your teen to increase their overall daily activity, which can help their body burn calories more efficiently. Arranging fun family walks outdoors can entice your teen to get more active.
  5. Rather than focusing on calorie content when shopping for household groceries, choose foods based on their nutrient density. This refers to the number of nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, and fibre – that a portion of food contains
  6. Replace unhealthy fats in your teen’s diet with nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish can promote healthy weight loss.
  7. Encourage your teen to eat more vegetables. Veggies are packed with fibre and water, which can help your teen feel full and more satisfied after meals. This decreases the chances of overeating by keeping your teen’s appetite stable throughout the day.
  8. Always ensure your teen eats a well-balanced breakfast. Although skipping breakfast may seem like it would help your teen lose weight, it may cause them to eat more throughout the day due to hunger.
  9. Make take-outs an indulgence, not an everyday occurrence, and be mindful of your teen’s sodium intake. Trade processed foods for fresh foods whenever possible.
  10. Ensure your teen gets eight hours of sleep a night. Getting adequate, quality sleep is an integral part of a healthy weight loss plan.


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