Pre-teen years a time of weight gain for girls

February 16, 2007

A report by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that girls are most likely to gain weight early in adolescence, between the ages of 9 and 12, and the health consequences of being overweight can be evident in girls as young as 9. The study is published in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

A report by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that girls are most likely to gain weight early in adolescence, between the ages of 9 and 12, and the health consequences of being overweight can be evident in girls as young as 9. The study is published in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

According to Bonita H. Franklin, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, "Heart disease is the major cause of mortality in adults in the U.S. This is implying that these factors which are known to make heart disease more likely in adults are already present in young children, so you would presume that there would be an increased health burden and probably shorter life span for this next generation."

The childhood obesity epidemic in the United States continues to worsen. Between 1976 and 1980, 4% to 6% of children were overweight. By 1999-2002, that number had climbed to 16%.

Being overweight, even as a child, increases the likelihood of having risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including higher blood pressure as well as elevated cholesterol, triglyceride and fasting insulin levels.

For this study, more than 2,300 girls aged 9 and 10 were enrolled and followed for at least a decade. Researchers measured their height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol every year through age 18, then had the teens report their own measures at ages 21 through 23.

Rates of overweight among the participants increased through adolescence. Girls were 1.6 times more likely to become overweight when they were aged 9 through 12 than later in adolescence. And girls who were overweight during childhood were 11 to 30 times more likely to be obese as young adults. Being overweight also made girls more likely to have elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels compared to girls of normal weight.