Overweight and Obesity

Young men's version of this guide

If your health care provider (HCP) told you that your weight or BMI falls in the “overweight” or “obese” range you may be experiencing a variety of emotions. It is important to keep in mind that while higher weights have been associated with some health concerns, some individuals naturally live in a larger body and it is more important to focus on positive health behaviors rather than weight.   Even if your weight doesn’t change, behavioral changes will make you healthier! It’s also important to remember that having a positive body image is more important than any number on a scale. Understand that body diversity is another thing that makes people unique and try to focus on the parts of “you” that you love and that make you special.

How do I know if I my weight is classified as overweight or obese?

Health care providers use something called Body Mass Index (BMI) to calculate overweight and obesity. BMI is a tool that shows a ratio (or comparison) of height to weight and can be used to estimate body fat. If you are under the age of 19, your BMI is plotted onto a growth chart. Whether your weight falls into the “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight” or “obese” category depends on where your BMI falls on the chart:

  • BMI percentile <5th: underweight
  • BMI percentile 5th-85th: normal weight
  • BMI percentile 85th-95th: overweight
  • BMI percentile >95th: obese

If you are over the age of 19, your BMI classification is based simply on the number:

  • BMI <18.5 kg/m2: underweight
  • BMI 18.6-24.9 kg/m2: normal weight
  • BMI 25-29.9 kg/m2: overweight
  • BMI >30 kg/m2: obese

If you are under 19 and want to figure out your BMI percentile, you’ll need to ask your health care provider to look at your growth chart. Remember, BMI is not a perfect tool. Even if your BMI places you into an the overweight or obese category, ask your doctor if you need to make any changes to your weight for your overall health. A health care provider will first assess your weight history, activity level, diet, and body composition (such as how muscular you are) before they decide if you need to make any changes.

BMI has been criticized for its use because it is an oversimplification of the relationship between weight and health and is not directly linked to health outcomes. Many people can have similar BMIs but completely different lifestyles so it’s important to remember that what matters most are how you feel about yourself and how you care for yourself.

Is it unhealthy to have overweight or obesity?

Having weight in the range classified as overweight or obese can be associated with increased risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Hypertension
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Joint pain
  • High cholesterol and/or triglycerides
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Metabolic syndrome

Usually, these health concerns don’t affect you as a teen, but you may be more likely to have them as an adult if your weight classifies as overweight or obese now. There is increasing awareness that people can be healthy at any size or weight; however, it’s important for health care providers to screen for possible future problems that can be prevented.

How did I develop weight in the overweight or obese range?

Studies have shown that weight is closely tied to genetics (your parents or other family members) as well as individual metabolism (how quickly your body turns food into energy), and environmental factors  such as diet and exercise. There is nothing that you can do to change your genetics (the genes or body blueprint that you inherit from your parents). However, you can change your environment by getting more exercise, eating healthier foods, trying to have lower stress levels, getting enough sleep and trying to have less screen time.

My health care provider (HCP) told me to lose weight. What should I do?

If your HCP told you that your health would be improved by losing weight, ask about whether maintaining your current weight might be a good first step. For adolescents who could still be growing, this is often an appropriate goal. If you feel ready to make lifestyle changes but aren’t sure where to start, you can ask your HCP for a referral to an exercise program and/or an appointment with a registered dietitian. These small changes can make a big difference, and help you become a healthier person.

  • Increase the amount you move. If you are not currently physically active, start with a small goal of walking 30 minutes a few times per week. Gradually add more minutes, days and intensity to your workouts. Most importantly, find something that you enjoy doing! You’ll be more likely to stick with it.
  • Decrease the amount of processed or refined carbohydrates you eat or drink. This includes soda, juice, candy, sweets, baked goods, chips, etc.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. These foods are packed full of important nutrients and also contain fiber, which can help with weight management.
  • Drink more water. Whether you’re drinking water instead of sugar sweetened beverages or just trying to stay well-hydrated, make sure that you drink about 8 glasses per day.
  • Get enough sleep. Research studies have shown that the amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on weight. If making the other changes sound too hard or challenging right now, this might be a good first step!
  • Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Avoid becoming overly hungry which can lead to eating larger portions than your body needs.
  • Check-in with your feelings. If you think that your weight or eating might be directly tied to emotions, ask your health care provider about meeting with a therapist who can help you work through these emotions and find alternatives to using food as comfort.
  • Limit your screen time.We know screens are everywhere. But try to limit the amount of time you use them. Most importantly, try not to eat when watching TV shows, movies, or using a computer, phone, or tablet. Eating while watching a screen keeps you from eating mindfully and typically leads to overeating—and less enjoyment of your food!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of making changes to your eating habits and physical activity, remember: you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of teens dealing with this issue and plenty of resources and support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your health care provider to ask what resources are available to you such as support groups of peers your age, discounted gym memberships, or meeting individually with a counselor or dietitian.