Published on November 18, 2020

Make your teen’s health a priority

By Arthy Baskaran, MD

Teenage boy talking to a woman.Parents know that adolescence is often a sensitive and overwhelming time for kids. It may not seem like an easy time to make health a priority, but doing so can help ensure that healthy behaviors become a way of life.

Nutrition, exercise and weight management are just as important in adolescence as in other stages of life – and perhaps even more so. Unfortunately, doctors are now seeing more young patients develop obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – conditions that were once seen only in older adults.

Teens and families approach health in various ways. For some, healthy eating, activity levels and weight management are part of normal life and help promote lifelong well-being. For others, nutrition and fitness take a back seat to time constraints, stressors and unhealthy habits, leading to potentially serious issues now and in the future. In some cases, an overemphasis on food, exercise or weight interferes with daily life and happiness.

The teen years are ideal for developing and practicing good habits that can last a lifetime. Besides helping to maintain physical health, a healthy lifestyle helps prevent and reduce anxiety and depression. It also contributes to general wellness and a positive self-image.

Parents are essential to helping their kids view health, nutrition and fitness as a normal part of life. Being aware of and making healthy choices is the easiest way to help your teen and entire family feel good and perform at their best.

Here are some ways you can influence healthy choices:

Food – Make grocery lists in advance, focusing on healthy foods and recipes. Prepare and enjoy homemade meals together. Keep items like apples and nuts handy to take the place of unhealthy snacking. Limit processed foods. Make foods such as pizza, ice cream and chips exceptions in your family.

Activities – Promote and practice simple positive behaviors such as walking the dog or shooting hoops. Limit small screen and large screen time. Take a positive interest in what your teens like to do and talk about.

Prevention – Learn about your child’s activities. Ask thoughtful, candid questions about personal behaviors and friends’ use of alcohol, tobacco, vaping products and opioids, as well as sexual behavior. Let them know that they can turn to you when they have questions or need help.

Self-image – Help your teen understand that there are many different body types. Explain that genetics, bone structure, muscle mass and metabolism play a role in appearance and weight, along with fitness and nutrition. Teens need to learn to accept others and themselves with the knowledge that people don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy and happy.

Health care – Schedule a visit with your child’s doctor if you have questions or concerns about his or her physical, emotional or mental health and well-being. Your doctor can help you develop positive approaches to care for your child and can encourage your teen to take an active interest in health.

Other aspects of teen life are also important for a healthy adolescence and future. Keep vaccinations current, ensure that kids get plenty of rest, remind them to wear a helmet when needed, and help them learn to drive safely. All of these actions contribute to teen health.

Keep your teens focused on positive choices now and they’ll benefit from good health habits as they age.

Arthy Baskaran, MD, is a family medicine physician at the ProHealth Medical Group clinic at N57 W24950 N. Corporate Circle in Sussex.

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