Weight management is important to every individual. Obesity is associated with excess morbidity and mortality across all populations. Children with Down Syndrome (DS) have a tendency to be overweight, which predisposes them to overweight in adolescence. A number of studies have demonstrated a greater prevalence of obesity in the (DS) population.
Safe weight gain management in teens with DS should begin with a complete annual physical assessment. The assessment should also include:
Hypothyroidism is a condition known to affect as many as 30% of DS individuals before 25 years of age. Symptoms may include: fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, decreased appetite, sleepiness, cold intolerance, depression, etc. Along with free T4 and TSH thyroid antibodies should be tested if hypothyroidism is suspected.
Regular physical exercise helps adolescents with DS manage their weight while improving their muscle strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. Organized recreation programs can be highly effective ways to motivate teens to enjoy regular physical activity, and to increase community involvement and interaction.
Like any adolescent, the teen with DS will be more likely to engage in regular physical activity if that activity is age appropriate and based on the interests of the teen and family members. Accessibility and availability are also important considerations. Some good choices for adolescents with DS include:
Nurses working with adolescents
with DS can be instrumental in overcoming barriers to exercise. Teens
with DS are more likely to engage in regular exercise if they receive
encouragement and instruction from others, and if they have someone to exercise
with. Some teens may prefer to exercise with family members, while others are
In addition to encouraging
the teen to exercise, the nurse can locate appropriate sources of instruction.
For some teens with DS, regular group or private lessons offered
at a community agency or fitness center will provide the right level of instruction
and support. Others may need the services of adaptive physical education instructors
skilled in working with individuals with disabilities. Adapted recreation programs,
such as bowling leagues or swim programs for adolescents with disabilities,
can be terrific sources of instruction and provide peers to exercise with.
All too often, adolescents with Down syndrome are not involved in the decision-making process when it comes to dietary choices. Whether they live at home with family, in a group setting, or in boarding programs, teens with DS should actively participate in their weight management. Joan Medlen, R.D. has developed a "rule of thumb", the following nutrition guidelines work well for adolescents with DS: