March 18, 2001
Question from New Zealand:
I am concerned about my 15 year old son who is five feet, five inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. He walks five miles per day on his paper route and walks to school. However, I just have discovered that he is not only eating family meals and packed lunches, but is regularly spending $30 week from his bank account on all manner of junk food (chips, ice creams,lollies, etc.) Since we have a family history of type 2 diabetes, this naturally causes me to worry, especially as I appreciate just how much he must be eating to have reached this weight despite his energy expenditure. He lives principally with his other parent. My son is aware of the type 2 risks, but seems to be very pre-occupied with enjoyment of the junk food. I have been reluctant to mention weight issues previously because of concern with unwittingly precipitating an eating disorder. How can I help him?
I congratulate you, first of all, for understanding the potential for harm in making the food into an issue.
As for your son’s weight itself, there is always the possibility that his shape is being largely dictated by genetics. Consider how his weight and fitness level compare to relatives he seems to resemble. If he comes from a family of stocky folks, that may be a big factor (and very hard to modify with food choices and activity). I would also ask, what is his percent body fat? Is he a quite muscular boy? I have worked with football players and weight lifters his size who had body fat levels comparable to and even lower than “normal weight” boys of their age group.
Regardless of his true weight vs. body fat/fitness status, it would be important to try to discover why he is eating so much “junk.” Have you asked him if he’s physically hungry when he eats? Is he eating these things away from home because he’s not allowed to have them at home (or you just don’t have them there because of your family history of type�2 diabetes)? Is he just trying to keep up with his peers who are also eating boatloads of this stuff, or is he eating as a way to cope with feelings of sadness, isolation, anxiety or whatever? Teens feel things very deeply, and don’t always know what to do those feelings. Others his age or a bit older may reach out for drugs or cigarettes to feel better momentarily. Perhaps, he is using the food in this way.
If he were my boy, I would first try to establish exactly why he is eating in this fashion. That would make it a lot easier to develop a plan. Just for your peace of mind, know that a kid getting as much regular physical activity as your son is getting significant protection against type 2 diabetes from that activity.
Additional comments from Joyce Mosiman, diabetes dietitian:
A visit to the physician might be in order as well to find out what is happening. He may already have type 2, in which case the earlier he finds out the better. The dietitian visit would be a must as well.