Teens And Weight Loss

from Yolanda Evans, MD


Did you know that nearly half of all students nationwide are trying to lose weight?

Close to half (44%) of high school students in 2009 tried to lose weight, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey sponsored by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). The YRBS is a survey system that monitors risky behaviors in teens. They gather information from over 30 states across the USA each year, and ask questions about health-related behaviors like wearing a seatbelt, using alcohol or tobacco, and eating habits.


In 2009, 40% of students had eaten less food, fewer calories, or low-fat foods to lose weight.  Over 60% had exercised to lose weight.  This may sound healthy, but for some teens, exercising too much and eating less can be signs of an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia.  The YRBS survey also found that 1 out of 20 students had taken diet pills without a doctor’s advice, and that 1 out of 25 had vomited or taken a laxative to lose weight.  These behaviors can have serious consequences for teens’ health.  Not eating, taking diet pills, and vomiting can cause problems like dehydration and disruption of the body’s levels of minerals and fluids. These problems can lead to hospitalization and even death.


While eating disorders more often affect girls, they happen to boys, too.  There is not a single cause of eating disorders. Many things, such as family history, emotional disorders, unhealthy media images, and family behavior can put a person at risk.  Eating disorders are rare, but if you think that your child has an eating disorder, stay calm and see your child’s doctor.  They can ask more questions and may do tests to check your child’s health.


To promote healthy eating:

  • Eat meals as a family. Dinner can often be a good time for the family to eat together.
  • Children need 3 meals a day, and also need snacks. Try to make sure your child is eating often enough.
  • Encourage your child to eat a variety of foods.  A balanced meal includes foods from many different food groups.
  • Try to be a role model for your child.  Avoid criticizing your own body and talk about eating and being physically active in positive ways.
  • Talk with your child about images they may see on TV or in magazines that demonstrate a particular body type.  Ask them to question what they see in the media and set realistic expectations of body size and shape.
  • If you are worried your child has an eating disorder, go see your child’s doctor and let them know why you are concerned.



National Eating Disorders Association: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/index.php

Seattle Children's Hospital Eating Disorder Resources: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/clinics-programs/eating-disorders/resources/

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2009 [pdf 3.5M] MMWR 2010; 59(SS-5):1–142. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm

Austin SB, Ziyadeh NJ, Forman S, Prokop LA, Kelither A, Jacobs D. Screening High School Students for Eating Disorders: Results of a National Initiative. Preventing chronic disease public health research, practice, and policy. October 2008: volume 5; no 4

Eating Disorders. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/Pages/default.aspx