The Time Is Now!

Shantella Y. Sherman | 12/11/2013, 2 p.m.
Shantella Y. Sherman

By 1983 Torcy Ross, despite being a toddler, had developed a sharp taste for freshly brewed, strong coffee. Her parents, who had both grown up taking casual sips of coffee from other relatives in their Warrenton, Va., town, could hardly have known the dangers in turning the child onto caffeine. In what she describes as a progressive dependence on caffeinated beverages during her teen years, Ross eventually developed several chronic health conditions, including acid reflux disease, iron deficiency, and incontinence, as the result of consuming an average of 10 Red Eyes (coffee with an espresso shot) a day. “Caffeine kept me alert and functioning during high school and college. Everyone was drinking coffee or taking No-Doze to study late hours and get through exams. It worked, but it took it began to take its toll on my body in my early twenties. At 33, Ross is one of millions of Americans whose chronic health conditions began in overindulgence as a teen.

Whether it’s overindulging in sweets, caffeine, or greasy foods, or engaging in reckless behaviors, teen habits can easily have lifetime consequences. The National Diabetes Education Program reported earlier this year that about 215,000 young people under 20 years of age have diabetes. While most of those making up that figure have Type 1 diabetes, as obesity rates in children continues to soar, Type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to be seen primarily in adults over age 45, is becoming more common in teens. Being sedentary – a lack of exercise, and poor eating habits are at the root of both diabetes and the excess weight associated with developing it. Unfortunately, as teens stretch the boundary of parental authority and assume responsibility for their own meals, activities, and schedules, many join the rat race of adults by going to bed later, eating more processed and fast foods, and engaging in social activities that require less physical activity.

In Too Young, Too Strong? Building a Better Nation by Improving the Health of America’s Teens, The Informer encourages parents and teens to get serious about their health. F. Sia Turay examines finding a happy balance between online socializing and knowing when to disconnect from cyber-world, while Ronda Smith offers advice on navigating the stress of adolescence. Staff writer Stacy Brown tops off our edition with profiles of leading experts in the field of youth health.