Excess weight has become the new norm in America with 70% of all adults and 37% of all kids considered clinically overweight or obese.

“Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States and is a medical term used to identify individuals who are at risk for weight-related health complications—including Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer,” says Megan Ratcliff, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Gwinnett Medical Center’s Center for Weight Management. “We’re also finding that many weight-related conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes—once thought to be adult diseases—are affecting children at an increasing rate.”

Many parents do not realize how serious the health risks of childhood obesity are and may delay seeking help—believing their child will ultimately grow out of it. Unfortunately, excess weight in childhood is likely to continue into adulthood without proper intervention.

“For the first time in recent history, children have a lower life expectancy than their parents—in large part due to excess weight,” says Ratcliff.

Navigating Adolescence

“The physical consequences of excess weight are significant enough, but the mental, emotional and social consequences—especially in the teen and late childhood years—may be even more pronounced,” says Ratcliff. “Children with excess weight report lower quality of life than their healthy weight peers and may be more likely to develop depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Weight-based stigma and victimization in the form of bullying and social exclusion are real phenomenon that can have a lasting impact.”

In a time when children and teens consume more media than ever before, the images and messages they’re exposed to—often idealizing certain body types—can have a lasting impact.

“These are misleading ideas about how people are supposed to look, and many children believe they’ll never measure up,” says Ratcliff. “The end result is distorted body image, low self-worth and unhealthy behaviors like skipping meals and emotional eating.”

That’s why it’s important to address the underlying mental, emotional and social issues related to excess weight.

“Teaching kids what it means to be healthy—that they are more than a number on a scale—is vitally important, not just for their physical health but their mental health as well,” says Dr. Ratcliff.

A New Normal

Adults struggling with weight-related issues may experiment with various weight loss strategies, from fasting and calorie cutting to specific diets and exercise regimens. But that’s not necessarily what’s best—or safest—for young people. Because children and teens are still developing mentally and physically, drastic changes in diet or extreme exercise can be unhealthy and even dangerous. Not to mention the negative impact it may have on their long-term relationship with food, exercise and self-image.

“In order to truly help children with weight-related health issues, they need to receive care that’s focused less on their BMI, or the number on the scale, and more on learning healthy behaviors,” says James Lin, M.D., a pediatrician certified in obesity medicine with the Center for Weight Management.

This approach is at the heart of the Center for Weight Management’s new adolescent program, Wellness 180—created specifically for children and teens. Wellness 180 offers adolescents the tools, resources and support they need to build long-term, sustainable and healthy lifestyle behaviors—while also addressing their unique weight-related health issues.

“To ensure a truly comprehensive experience, Wellness 180 addresses obesity from every side,” says Lin. “This includes a board-certified pediatrician, nurses, registered dietitians, behaviorists and fitness specialists, all working together to reach one goal—a healthier future for children and teens facing obesity.”

To learn more about the Wellness 180 program at GMC, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/wellness180, or call 678-312-6200.

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