What Should I do if my 15-Year Old is Overweight?

Weight is such a hot topic among all age groups, but it is normal for parents to be concerned about their teenager’s weight. Parents want the best for their kids, and that includes the best for their health and self-esteem. However, many well-meaning parents put too much emphasis on their child’s weight, which can have a negative effect on the child.

If your child is overweight, refrain from commenting on their body. Instead, rally the family together in a joint effort to be healthier with a focus on good habits rather than on weight. (P.S. you totally can and should do this no matter what your child’s weight is!)

Read on for more information about what it means to be overweight, how to help your teenager that is overweight, normal weight gain, and more! 

How Do I Know if my 15-Year Old is Overweight?

Teenagers often fluctuate between weight ranges as they are going through growth spurts. It’s not always concerning if your teenager has gained some weight. The best indicator of your 15-year old being classified as overweight is the weight trends plotted on a growth chart over time. Check with your pediatrician and healthcare team for any concerns you have over you child’s weight.

A weight classification depends on age, gender, height, and weight. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially defined “overweight” as having a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile on a growth chart. 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.

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What Can I do if my 15 Year Old is Overweight?

First of all, it is important to understand that these weight classifications like “overweight” and “obese” are not the best way to determine how healthy someone is. These classifications are based solely on weight and height and plotted on a growth chart. This can be really helpful to get a really quick, fast, and cheap snapshot of a population, but when evaluating an individual, there is much more to consider.

Children and teeangers are in a phase of growth and development, and that phase looks different for everyone. It is normal to have changes in weight throughout this time. Shifting hormones, social atmosphere, increased independence, and more are all happening in the teenage years, so your body needs a lot of patience and grace! 

Regardless of your child’s weight, it is important to shift focus away from weight and emphasize healthy habits for the sake of overall health- not for the purpose of changing your weight. Teenagers should never feel like their worth is tied to their weight or physical appearance in any way, so avoid talking about weight like it is “good” or “bad” to weigh a certain amount.

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Should 15-Year Olds Gain Weight?

We become conditioned to think of weight gain as a bad thing, but that is not necessarily true. In fact, during a time of growth and development- weight gain might be precisely what your body needs. 

If your teenager is gaining weight, don’t make them feel ashamed of their changing body! Make sure to choose a healthcare provider that is also going to address weight in a healthy, positive way. They should look at all of the factors that affect health, without hyper-focusing on weight. By tracking your child’s weight over time and looking at other factors, your doctor will help make sure things are progressing in an appropriate way.

How Much Weight Gain is Too Much for Teenagers?

There isn’t really a specific cutoff for how much weight is “too much” for a teenager to gain. There really cannot be a specific cutoff because everyone’s body is a little bit different.

One thing I find helpful for people to focus on when it comes to eating is to make it a priority to fuel your body for what you are doing. Here are some tips for properly fueling your body:

  • You should have energy to do the things that you need to do, plus the additional fun things you enjoy. While it is normal to have some days or times of the day be more productive than others, having severe shifts in energy levels can be a sign that your body is not getting everything it needs.
  • You should be able to hear your body’s natural cues and follow them. Are you eating when you start to feel hungry and stopping when you get full? It might seem simple, but these cues can easily be ignored or get mixed up if you are not consistently practicing listening to your body.
  • Are you purposefully ignoring your body’s cues or needs for the purpose of changing your body? This can be a dangerous practice- working against your body usually doesn’t end well and often results in emotional and mental distress, as well as ultimately giving in to things you have been restricting! 
  • Remove distractions while you are eating and actually sit down at the table as often as you can for meals and snacks. Put away the screens and other distractions that get in the way of enjoying your food and listening to your body!
  • Eat regularly and balanced throughout the day. Going long periods of time without eating will throw off your hunger cues and deprive your body of the energy it so desperately needs to function at its full potential. 

Remember that as important as it is to fuel your body properly with food, there are other important aspects of maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep every night! Sleep is the perfect time for your body to reset and for your hormones to regulate, all of which can affect weight.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress! Not only can stress impact appetite, but high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body can also change the way fat is stored. You might try meditation, therapy, exercise, or something else to help you keep your stress levels at a healthy level.
  • Physical activity is so important to maintaining a healthy weight and just for overall health in general. Exercise helps to keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy, helps improve mood and sleep, and can also be a great way for teens to socialize and become part of a like-minded community that enjoys the same things!

When to be Concerned About Teen Weight Gain

As long as your doctor is monitoring your teenager’s weight and your teen has established healthy eating and exercise habits, there is usually nothing to worry about. Remember, sometimes it is a parent’s preconceived notions about weight that are the problem, not the teenager’s weight gain.

There are some other instances where your teenager might need some additional follow-up with a healthcare provider. Here are a few:

  • If you notice that your child is developing a poor relationship with food (i.e. skipping meals, counting calories, weighing themselves, talking negatively about their body, cutting out certain foods or food groups, any kind of binging or purging, etc.)
  • Your child has a hard time recognizing their body’s cues. Sometimes this can happen after a long period of ignoring hunger and fullness cues. They may need some help getting back on track until their body adjusts and gives them accurate cues again.
  • Changes in body weight even when eating and exercise habits have not changed. Remember that not all weight gain or loss is directly due to eating and exercise habits. There could be other medical things going on such as thyroid problems, medication side effects, sickness, stress, etc.

It’s best to bring up concerns about your child’s weight with their doctor privately, it can be harmful to a teenager’s self-image if they know you are questioning their size.

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, it is also extremely important not to single out your teenager and make them feel like something is wrong with them. Most of the time, making healthy changes together as a family can be a great place for parents to start! If your teenager is looking for help or turning to dieting, setting them up with a body positive dietitian that believes in health at every size might be helpful.

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Weight is a hard topic to talk about, especially with teenagers. It can be a very emotional conversation to have, especially if your teen is struggling with social pressures to look a certain way. Disordered eating can often start in the teenage years because teenagers are trying to change their body. Look for signs of emotional distress in your teenager and be sure to get them the help that they need!

As a parent, the best thing you can do is avoid focusing on weight, set a good example of healthy habits, encourage your family to make conscious decisions that will benefit their overall health, and seek out help from qualified healthcare professionals like dietitians! 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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