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Dr. Phil's Son Has a Heavy Message for Teens



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In case you haven't noticed, America is getting plump.

So fat that the U.S. surgeon general is calling our growing waistlines the biggest health threat in the country.

Tattletale.

This was hardly a secret, even before Big Brother weighed in. Study after study has revealed how large many of us are living, with some studies suggesting that nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Our slim mirrors no longer recognize us.

OK, so those are just older people like me, right? Baby boomers who spend too many hours at the office and too little time at the gym?

Not exactly.

Younger people increasingly are inflating the statistics, prompting pediatricians, nutritionists and other health officials to sound an alarm. If the children are our future, we're going to need a bigger belt - unless we act now.

To underscore the problem, the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine published a study this month that found that U.S. teens have a higher rate of obesity than those in 13 other industrialized countries.

Great, now everybody knows.

So what can we do about it?

Well, that's where 24-year-old Jay McGraw comes into the picture. He's a third-year law student at Southern Methodist University and the author of a best-selling new book, "The Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens: The 7 Keys to Weight Freedom."

Oh, yeah, he's also Dr. Phil's son. You know, Phil McGraw, the psychologist and author who rose to widespread prominence on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Anyway, following in the footsteps of his dad, who wrote the best-selling "The Ultimate Weight Solution," Jay inked a similar book for teens, one written in simpler language but every bit as plain and poignant as his father's offering.

"Here is the problem," Dr. Phil says in a foreword to Jay's book. "Kids today are getting fatter and more unhealthy right before our eyes. More than 30 percent of our children are overweight, and more than 15 percent are obese. Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders have gone vertical."

Today on his TV show, the psychologist is set to issue a weight-loss-lifestyle-change challenge to five teens who will be plucked from the audience. As he's done with some adults, Dr. Phil will help the teens set some goals, and then he'll track their progress.

Jay, who has teamed up with three Dallas-area schools to help students create healthier lifestyles, explains why he wrote his book. "Growing up, I didn't have a weight issue, but some in my family did, and I saw how it impacted them," he says. So when he saw his dad tackle the issue, "I knew he'd hit on something."

But Jay decided he wanted to do more research and zero in on a teen audience that is, frankly, getting too big for its britches: "Your body is one of the only things you have control over while you're a teen," he points out.

Most teens want to look good and be fit, he says, but they don't know where or how to begin. They're eating way too much junk and fast food, and spending far too much time sitting in front of the TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet, Jay says.

They're also getting conflicting messages from the media, he says: "It's an interesting paradox - teens being told to do one thing and being duped into doing something different."

To write his book, he not only interviewed "professionals in the weight and psychological fields," he also surveyed 10,000 teens nationally. And, in his book, he shares anecdotes about some of the many problems with which teens are wrestling.

"I know that a lot of you are feeling pretty bad about yourselves because you think you're fat or unattractive," he says in the book's introduction. "I want to help you change that, but not just on the outside. That's a tiny part of it. I want to help you change on the inside so you can learn to love yourself and treat yourself better."

That's a message that teens deserve to hear.

His seven keys basically call for a change in attitude and lifestyle - including getting more exercise, eating better and surrounding yourself with candid friends who will help hold you accountable.

But parents, that doesn't mean you're off the hook. Jay says parents must play an active role in getting their youngsters to start making better choices. After all, he says, parents typically are the ones buying the groceries and preparing the dinners at home, although Jay learned that kids often influence those decisions, too.

"One of the questions for parents is `How do I give this to my teen without offending them?'" he says of his book. "Well, you're not breaking a story here. The kids know they have a weight problem." And some of them will try to lose weight. "The only question is, are they going to do it the right way?"

Before teens jump in with both feet, says Dr. Dee Rollins, a clinical dietitian at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine, they need to learn more about nutrition and exercise, and to develop a plan as Jay suggests.

"You know what I spend most of my time doing? Teaching people to eat," she says. "We don't know how to eat, and we've been doing it since the day we were born."

Echoing what Jay says in his book, Rollins says too many Americans are eating way too much food. "We're super-sizing everything," she says. "And we end up wearing it."

And, unfortunately, the scales don't lie.

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(James Ragland is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Write to him at The Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, TX, 75265, or send e-mail to jragland@dallas news.com)

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(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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