Jillian lets her emotions out during a session with Yvonne St. John Dutra.

In October 2008, a group of 16 overweight teens from across America came together for an intervention with counselors Rich and Yvonne Dutra St. John to find out what they're really hungry for.

In a series of emotional exercises, they opened up about their feelings, their sadness and their fears.

At first, Jillian says, she felt awkward about the experience, especially with her father. "But after we both just got over it, we started talking more," she says. "It's just really nice to be able to go home and know that I can talk to my parents without feeling uncomfortable or knowing that they're upset because of something that happened."
Dr. Oz discusses America's obesity epidemic.

You see the headlines everywhere, but the numbers are still shocking—one in six kids in America is overweight.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Dr. Oz says he thinks the answer is education. "The most important thing I do in my professional life, besides heart surgery, is work with a group called HealthCorps, which takes—just like Peace Corps does—young, healthy, energetic people and they put them in high schools to work with kids who are struggling," he says. "What we try to do with Health Corps is we try to teach you that it's not just food and exercise, it's mental resilience. Because if you can control your body, you can control the world around you."

Watch how HealthCorps makes a difference! Watch

After the 16 teens searched for the emotional roots of their obesity, Dr. Oz says getting a real sense of the physical damage of being overweight can help encourage teens to get healthy.

First, the teens underwent a blood test called the Biophysical 250, which gives a full snapshot of health, including organ function. "The reason it's such a cool test is because it tells us in a very comprehensive way what effect the fat is having on you," Dr. Oz says."
Dr. Oz reveals the overweight teens' health information.

When the results came in, Dr. Oz says they showed just how dire the teens' health situations really are.

Many of them have high levels of irritation caused by belly fat. That fat can cause other problems too, Dr. Oz says, including problems with impotence. "When you've got a lot of fat on you, the fat comes alive. It becomes another organ. And that organ takes estrogen, for example, and manipulates it so that you get more problems with resistance to insulin. But it takes, in the boys, their testosterone, which they're making normally, and it converts it to estrogen."

Additionally, three of the teens are either diabetic or prediabetic and four have fatty liver syndrome. "Belly fat sends chemicals up to the liver, which makes the liver irritated. But in addition, the food that you're eating, if there's too much of it, goes up to the liver. And the liver's main job is to process whatever you put in your mouth and make it what you can use and send it out to the body. But if you overwhelm it, especially with simple carbohydrates like sugars, then the liver stores it as fat in the liver. That can actually cause hepatitis and inflammation of the liver."

Half of them have another problem caused by belly fat—metabolic syndrome. This serious condition is a potentially lethal combination of high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol and low good cholesterol, and an insulin blockage that can lead to diabetes.
Dr. Oz on life expectancy for overweight children

With the dramatic increase in obesity and related diseases, the current generation of children is not expected to live as long as their parents. "It violates the basic human desire for us to have our kids live longer," Dr. Oz says. "We've created an environment that makes it really easy to get heavy."

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Dr. Oz says he's seeing things now in medicine that he had never seen before—such as 25-year-olds who need heart surgery. "I trained to operate on older people, like people have retired and now their hearts are going bad," he says. "I'm doing those same bypass operations on 25-year-olds who made one too many mistakes when they were [teenagers]."
Dr. Oz teaches the teens how to read a food label.

One of the biggest reasons there is so much obesity is because fatty, sugary foods are so easy to come by. Dr. Oz says the teens' poor food choices are killing them. What do these 16 teens eat? Sugar-laden breakfast cereal, frozen pizza, fast food and sodas aren't occasional treats—they make up a significant portion of their diets.

"A lot of calories, but they're not a lot of nutrients," Dr. Oz says. "When your brain doesn't get the nutrients that it wants—because it can tell the difference between calories and nutrients—then it says, 'Hey, guys, feed me.' You're going to keep eating more food until you get the nutrients that your body desires."

Watch Dr. Oz analyze a food label. Watch

The first step to taking charge of your health, he says, is not to fall for "the head fake" on food labels. Check how many serving sizes are in the package. For example, if a box of instant macaroni and cheese says it contains two servings, if you eat the entire box you have to double all of the nutritional numbers.
David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Men's Health magazine

David Zinczenko is the editor-in-chief of Men's Health magazine and author of the book Eat This Not That for Kids, which compares two food choices and provides the healthier option. Some of the book's answers are downright shocking!

You've certainly heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. David says it's important for weight loss too. "People who skip breakfast altogether are 450 percent more likely to become overweight," he says.

So what are the healthiest breakfast foods? Surprise! David says eggs and bacon is one of the best breakfast options around. "Eggs are the magic bullet of weight loss," David says. "Studies show that if you start your morning with a high-quality protein source, you're going to burn 65 percent more calories throughout the day. You don't want to have more than one or two eggs, but this is a great way to start your day."

One thing to be leery of at breakfast time is healthy-sounding buzz words currently being touted on packages. "Things like 'multigrain' bagel—that only means there are different grains used. They may still be refined grains," David says. "'Whole grain' is much better."

Men's Health ranks the worst foods for kids.

Another important item in a healthy breakfast is fiber. "I think if you're going to send your kids to school and have them do well, you ought to be eating foods with a lot of fiber in them," Dr. Oz says.
Dr. Oz on school lunch options

With corn dogs, macaroni and cheese and pizza at their fingertips, overweight teens say it's a huge challenge to eat right at the school cafeteria. In fact, only three out of 10 high school seniors say they eat green vegetables during a typical day.

Outside of the cafeteria, the temptation is just as great. Unhealthy vending machine snacks loaded with fats, sugars, salts and calories are available in 82 percent of all middle schools and 97 percent of all high schools. On average, kids consume more than 29 teaspoons of sugar a day—which ends up being 92 pounds of sugar a year.

Dr. Oz toured a number of schools with HealthCorps. "We actually looked at what these kids are eating, and you notice there's a lot of color in the food, but they're not natural colors," he says.

Dr. Oz and HealthCorps also uncovered a serious lack of fiber. "So guess what? When you actually go and you talk to teachers about how the kids are doing, they say after they have lunch, they're comatose," Dr. Oz says. "And by the way, since you have no fiber you're constipated, and that's no way to learn."
David Zinczenko says small changes can make kids healthier.

Breakfast gets top billing as the most important meal of the day, but lunch isn't far behind. Dr. Oz says small changes in your child's lunch can have big results. "Every big diet program that has ever worked over long periods of time has shared one characteristic—that you shave off 100 calories a day from what you would have eaten and not more," Dr. Oz says. "When you try to lose 400 calories, your body says, 'Hey, wait a minute. We're in a famine.'"

David says the lunch your child eats will determine how alert they are for their afternoon classes. To avoid what David calls "nap-in-a-box" lunches, he's put together three suggestions for healthy, nutritious and tasty lunches.

Option 1:
  • Turkey with Swiss sandwich on whole wheat bread. "You want to start off with a sturdy anchor of lean protein, healthy fats, good-for-you carbs," David says. "Your kids will probably whine for a couple days about the whole wheat. ... They'll want the sugar [of white bread], but this is a very smart change because it goes back to the fiber point."
  • A low-sugar gelatin snack and pretzels. "Kids love crunchy things," David says. "This is much better than chips."
  • Tropicana Fruit Squeeze. At only 40 calories, David says the real fruit juice is great for kids. "You can make the single greatest change in your diet and lead to rapid weight loss if you focus on the beverage," he says. "And a lot of fruit juices out there can be like sodas."
Option 2:
  • Slices of ham, Triscuit crackers and Swiss cheese. "Ham is a surprisingly lean cut," David says. "[Swiss cheese] is lower in calories, sodium and fat."
  • Apple slices and peanut butter or caramel apple dip. To keep your apples from turning brown during the day, Dr. Oz recommends sprinkling lemon juice on them. "It has vitamin C. It prevents the apple from turning brown," he says.
  • Individually wrapped Rice Krispie treat. "It's 90 calories," David says. "You have to give your child something to brag about or barter with in the cafeteria."
  • Skim milk. "One change there is that 100 calories in a day," David says. "As you go from 2 percent to 1 to skim, and 100 calories a day is over 10 pounds a year. Three-hundred calories a day is over 30 pounds a year."
Option 3:
  • Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread
  • Squeezable yogurt
  • Carrot sticks with caramel dip
  • Water. "The greatest no-cal drink on the planet," David says.
Be patient if they don't get too excited right away, Dr. Oz says. "It takes about 12 exposures to a taste for kids to finally say, 'You know what, I think that's okay,'" Dr. Oz says.
Cut down on liquid calories.

More kids today will die from bad eating habits than they will from tobacco, drugs and alcohol. When planning your family's meals, there are a few things to consider when you're trying to make healthier choices.

On average, children consume 450 calories a day from beverages alone—nearly twice as many as 30 years ago. Fruit juices average 120 calories a glass, sodas average 150 calories a can and shakes average about 700 calories.

The good news is liquid calories are the easiest to cut. Drink more water and start limiting the number of sodas and fruit drinks.

The dramatic increase of portion sizes is also driving up America's waistlines. Since 1977, fast food hamburgers have increased by 97 calories, french fries by 68. To create a better sense of portion control, use smaller plates, bowls and cups at home—your kids will feel less deprived if their bowls are full.

Another way to help your kids win the battle of the bulge is to sit down together. Families who eat together three or four times a week have half the weight issues of families who eat together only once or twice a week.
Get moving.

The diets of many teenagers are severely lacking—and so are their exercise habits. A typical American child spends four to five hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games—and a third of all U.S. children 12 to 19 years old are unfit.

About 30 percent of all teens could not pass a standard fitness test for cardio health, strength and endurance. Jillian says she hates her gym class. "I hate gym with a burning passion," she says. "I hate jogging. I'm going to bawl my eyes out."

Haven says her dad makes her take walks, which she dislikes. "I wheeze a lot when I walk," she says. "It bothers me that I'm out of breath and I sweat too much, even for the littlest thing."
Dr. Oz says to start getting fit by walking.

To get your family moving, Dr. Oz says to start with walking. "You don't get hurt doing it; you build up a little bit of reliance on yourself and some self-esteem," he says.

To help motivate Haven and the other teens he's been working with, Dr. Oz, gives each of them a pedometer. "This is one of the best ways for kids to give themselves feedback. So you can do cool things," he says. "Give them to a class and have them race another class so they can count up all their steps together. You can go explore in your neighborhood. You can find nature trails. Don't make it exercise. Make it cool and fun and hip and edgy and go out and play with it, but then keep track."

Dr. Oz estimates most of these kids are walking about 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, but 10,000 steps a day is the goal. To work up to that, Dr. Oz says to start small with just an extra half-hour each day. "The Amish, in Pennsylvania, they walk even more than that. But they're walking 10,000 steps a day, there aren't any obese people there because they just keep walking all the time," he says. "When you're walking, you're always using calories. You can walk all day long. We're designed to be able to do that."
Dr. Oz's special message for overweight teens.

Dr. Oz's advice for our teens can help anyone else starting a weight loss journey—make a long-term plan. "This is not a wind sprint. This is a marathon," he says. "Think of a GPS system in your car when you make a mistake, by the way. When you're driving along and you missed a turn, it doesn't berate you. It doesn't give you a hard time. It says, 'Hey, you know, next available moment, make an authorized U-turn.'"

Dr. Oz also has a special message for the teens. "All I want you to do is to love yourselves as much as we love you," he says. "People care about you. People care about all the kids because you're us. You're our responsibility. Let us help you. Feel the love that we have for you. But if you don't love yourselves, it's not going to make a difference, because that's the ultimate hunger that you've got to feed."

Keep Reading
FROM: Dr. Oz Reports: Why America's Kids Are Fat
Published on January 27, 2009
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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