Losing weight not always good idea for young people

Tots to Teens

February 27, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I am 16 years old and weigh 130 pounds. Is it safe to lose 15 pounds?

Without knowing how tall you are and whether you have finished maturing physically, it is impossible for us to give you specific advice about whether losing 15 pounds is healthy for you.

As teen-agers go through puberty (mature physically), they go through a period of rapid growth during which they get taller as well as gain weight. Their bones become more dense, which also contributes to weight gain. If you are still in this period of rapid growth, we would not recommend your losing weight at this time.

If you have reached the point where you have nearly completed your growth (a point which comes later for boys than for girls), the question then becomes whether 130 pounds is too much for you. This will depend on your height, your sex (boys tend to weigh a bit more than girls of the same height because they have more muscle mass) and how much muscle you have. Muscle is denser than fat, so an individual who has a good deal of muscle mass will weigh more than someone of roughly the same height and overall size.

A rough approximation of your ideal weight can be seen on growth charts that are usually posted in a physician's or nutritionist's office. These charts show the average weights for individuals of varying heights, with separate charts available for males and females. However, since these charts deal with averages, they may not be appropriate for any given individual. A more accurate assessment can be gained by calculating your body mass index or your percentage of body fat. The latter figure indicates what percent of your weight is attributable to fat. Your doctor or nutritionist can help you calculate these.

As we have indicated in previous columns, we are not big fans of diets, especially those that are very restrictive and severely limit calories. Since maintaining a healthy weight is something that you will need to do all your life, we favor focusing on developing sensible eating habits combined with a regular exercise regimen.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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