Teenagers often feel pressure to look and act a certain way. That pressure and the weight-obsessed culture that we live in might lead teens to compare their body to others’ and worry about how much they weigh. While weight can sometimes be a helpful screening tool for assessing health status, there is so much more that needs to be taken into account to really determine if a teenager is “healthy.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially defined “overweight” as having a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile on their growth charts. For example, a 15-year old female at 5 foot 3 inches tall who weighs more than 135 pounds (61 kg) is considered overweight and a 15-year old male at 5 foot 7 inches tall who weighs more than 149 pounds (67 kg) is considered overweight. However, an “overweight” classification is not necessarily unhealthy and many other factors should be evaluated to determine someone’s overall health status.
Read on for more information on the clinical definition of “overweight,” things that teenagers can do to maintain a healthy weight, and tips for helping teenagers establish healthy eating and exercise patterns.
What is a Healthy Weight for a 15-Year Old?
It is so important that teenagers understand that weight is not the best indicator of health status. However, weight is a simple, fast measurement that can be used as a screening method for the general population, which is why doctors and other healthcare providers use it!
Healthcare providers use growth charts to look at trends in growth over time, so a one-time measurement is not super helpful in determining if someone is in a healthy range and growing appropriately. Looking at trends over time can be much more helpful in figuring out what is going on with your body, but other factors should still be taken into consideration.
Using BMI and growth charts, teenagers fall in a percentile for their weight which is what we use to determine if someone is at a healthy weight. This chart from the CDC shows the different classifications:
This method of determining if someone is a healthy weight based on their age and BMI as plotted on a growth chart is incomplete and only gives one measurement of health. It really only considers age, height, and weight. It definitely does not include any factors such as body composition, mental health, eating and exercise habits, sleep habits, family history, genetics, etc.
A healthy weight for a 15-Year old is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) between the 5th and 85th percentiles on the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) growth charts. A healthy weight classification based on the growth charts is equal to a 5 foot 3 inch 15-year old female weighing between 92 and 135 pounds or a 5 foot 7 inch 15-year old male weighing between 105 and 149 pounds. However, looking at weight alone is not advised. There are many more factors at play in determining if you are healthy than just the number on the scale.
While these numbers might be somewhat helpful for healthcare providers to be aware of and track over time, I remind teenagers that a healthy weight for them is one where they feel good and energized. A healthy weight is pretty easy to maintain when you are constantly nourishing and taking care of your body.
If you feel like you have to put restrictions on what or how much you eat to maintain a certain weight, that weight might not actually be healthy for you!
What Factors Impact a Teenager’s Weight?
Weight is impacted by a variety of factors, some related to food and others, not so much. Here are a few of the things that play a role in a teenager’s weight.
- Eating habits Eating in excess of your body’s energy needs can lead to an increase in weight. Sometimes when teenagers eat less nutrient-dense foods, their body’s are getting a lot of calories, but aren’t feeling satisfied in other ways which can cause issues.
- Exercise habits Your body was made to move! Inactivity has been found to be associated with higher levels of overweight and obesity.
- Social atmosphere Your environment and the people around you totally impact the choices you make. Teenagers are figuring out their own social life and may have some changes in food and exercise habits because of that.
- Stress and emotional and mental struggles Stress and other mental and emotional struggles lead teenagers to turn to food as a coping mechanism or have changes in appetite. Stress can even change hormone levels enough that your body stores fat differently!
- Food availability and budget Access to healthy, nutrient-dense, satisfying foods is also essential to maintaining a healthy weight.
Why is it Important to Maintain a Healthy Weight?
There is often a link between higher weights and increased levels of body fat. The CDC has said that those with a higher body fat may be at a higher risk for:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breathing issues
- Joint issues
- Fatty Liver Disease
Being at a higher weight does not necessarily mean that you will experience any of these, just like being at a lower weight does not mean you are exempt from health problems. This is why all people can focus on healthy habits, regardless of their weight.
Should a 15-Year Old Go on a Diet?
Dieting is not recommended for teengers, and frankly isn’t recommended for anyone of any age! Dieting is often associated with restricting calories or specific foods or food groups with the goal of reducing body weight.
However, this can cause issues! Teenagers are especially vulnerable because they are still in such an important period of growth and development. Not getting enough of the energy and nutrients they need can lead to malnutrition, and even stunted growth and development. Dieting is also a strong predictor of developing an eating disorder.
Instead of dieting, teenagers should focus on making healthy lifestyle choices without restriction. Research has found over and over that dieting does not work and often results in gaining the weight back plus some.
If you are interested in weight loss as a teenager, it’s important to learn what advice is real and legitimate, and what just comes from fad diets and harmful sources. I’ve written an e-Book guide and month-long meal plan to help teens establish habits that will help them get to a healthy weight and maintain it. It will help teens develop attitudes and behaviors that will lead to a positive relationship with food and nutrition throughout their lives.
The book is available in the Downloads section of my website here – Downloadable Content.
Should a 15-Year Old Count Calories?
Counting calories often turns into a way of restricting food intake and can be harmful to teenagers. Calorie needs will also change day-to-day! Teenagers should focus on listening to and honoring their body’s hunger and fullness cues to make sure they are eating the appropriate amount that their body needs.
It is sometimes helpful to get a general idea for how many calories a teenager should be eating. This chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows approximate energy needs based on age, gender, and activity level. I encourage teens to work with a dietitian if they are unsure if they are meeting all of their energy needs appropriately.
Eating and Exercise Recommendations for a Healthy Weight
Your body is a hard working machine and it needs lots of nutrients to be at its best. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans give food group recommendations that are designed to help teens get the nutrients they need and support a healthy weight.
Food group recommendations are based on calorie needs. If you don’t know exactly how many calories your body needs, that is okay! The most important thing is to get a variety of foods from all the food groups each day.
For example, a teenager that needs about 2,000 calories per day should be getting:
- 2.5 servings of vegetables per day
- 2 servings of fruit per day
- 3 cups of dairy per day
- 5.5 oz of protein per day
- 6 oz of grains per day
If you have higher or lower energy needs, these amounts can be adjusted. Don’t get too caught up in eating “perfectly.” Instead, just do your best to choose a variety of foods that are satisfying to you and provide you with all the nutrients your body needs!
Exercise is another important part of overall health.
Teenagers getting the recommended amount of physical activity are much more likely to reach a healthy weight. Teens should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. This should include a combination of:
- Aerobic activity that will get their heart rate up. This might be walking, running, dancing, etc.
- Muscle and bone-strengthening activities like jumping rope and playing sports
Tips for Helping Your Teen Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Parents naturally want the best for their kids. They want their teenagers to be healthy and happy! However, addressing weight can be tricky. Here are a few tips for parents that want to encourage their teenagers to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid focusing on weight. Maybe this sounds a bit counterintuitive if your goal is to help your teenager achieve a healthy weight, but it is important to remember that overall healthy habits are much better to focus on than weight itself. Teenagers will naturally reach a weight that is healthy for them when they have established overall healthy eating and exercise patterns.
- Set a good example of healthy eating and exercise patterns. Your teenagers learn a lot from what they observe. Actions speak louder than words, so remember to set a good example for your teen!
- Avoid commenting on your body or anyone else’s body. Even positive comments about how someone’s body looks or their weight can negatively impact teenagers. For example, telling someone that they look great after losing a lot of weight can instill the idea that smaller bodies are better and more attractive.
- Don’t classify foods as “good” or “bad.” This adds unnecessary moral value to the foods we eat. All foods can fit as part of a healthy diet!
- Serve treats and foods that your teenager loves regularly and with meals. This helps teenagers learn that they are allowed to eat those foods whenever they want. This will reduce the desire to overeat like they might if they are not sure when they will ever be able to eat that food again.
- Discuss the positive things that nutrients do for your body. Talk about what nutrients are contained in different foods and help your teenager get excited for how that food can be helpful to the body.
- Encourage mindfulness with eating and with all things! Get rid of distractions and really focus on how different foods taste and how they make you feel. Encourage your teen to practice listening to their hunger cues and don’t force them to stop eating before they feel satisfied.
- Create positive associations with eating healthy foods and exercise. If it is possible in your situation, try to sit down and eat as a family and share positive conversation. Invite your entire family to be active together and create good memories associated with exercise!
- Teach your teenagers cooking skills. If they do not know how to prepare healthy foods, they are much less likely to eat them! This can also be a great bonding experience to continue to build positive associations with healthy foods.
- Watch for signs of emotional and mental distress. Encourage your teen to process their emotions in a healthy way. Seek help from mental health professionals to make sure your teen has all the tools and coping skills they need.
It may be helpful for your healthcare provider to keep an eye on your weight trends overtime, but focusing on weight is usually not super helpful for teenagers and can even be harmful. Teens should focus on establishing healthy eating and exercise patterns that make them feel their best!
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. BMI for Children and Adolescents. Eatrightpro.org. Published August 26, 2015.
CDC. Childhood Obesity Causes and Consequences. Cdc.gov. Reviewed March 19, 2021.
Ellis E. How Many Calories Does My Teen Need? Eatright.org. Published October 4, 2019.
United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Dietaryguidelines.gov. Published December 29, 2020.
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