Teen Obesity May Up Premature Death
Study: Being Overweight or Obese at 18 May Raise Women's Premature Death Risk
July 17, 2006 -- Women who were overweight at age 18 may be at greater risk
of premature death than those who weren't.
That finding comes from a study published in the Annals of Internal
The 12-year study included 102,400 female American nurses. When the study
started in 1989, the nurses were 24 to 44 years old. They reported their
current height and weight, their height and weight at age 18, and their history
of smoking, drinking alcohol, and physical activity.
The nurses were then followed for 12 years by the researchers, who included
Rob van Dam, PhD, of the nutrition department at Harvard School of Public
Rare Cases of Premature Death
The vast majority of participants were still alive at the end of the
follow-up period, regardless of weight.
However, 710 nurses -- less than 1% of the entire group -- died during the
follow-up period. Given their young age -- 56 years old, at most -- the
researchers considered all of those deaths to be premature.
Premature death risk was higher for nurses who had been overweight or obese
at age 18, even if they had only been moderately overweight based on their BMI
(body mass index, a ratio of weight to height).
But the bottom line may not be quite that simple. As an observational study,
the results don't show whether being overweight directly caused the deaths.
The study did not separate out the premature death risk in women who had
been overweight at 18 but lost their extra weight before joining the study.
Women who were overweight or obese as teens were more likely to be
overweight at the start of the study, smoke cigarettes, drink greater amounts
of alcohol, and avoid vigorous physical activity during adolescence.
Adjusting for those factors didn't change the study's results. Adult BMI
didn't totally explain the findings either, note van Dam and colleagues.
They caution that the results need to be confirmed in other groups, since
most of the nurses were white and because self-reported data isn't always
accurate. For instance, the researchers found some underreporting of weight
when they checked some of the nurses' medical records.
The journal includes an editorial by the CDC's William Dietz, MD, PhD. He
didn't work on van Dam's study.
Dietz notes that "the reported effect of overweight on death has been
controversial." But he sees little argument about links between obesityand
adult diseases such as diabetesand
Losing extra weight may lower those risks, Dietz points out. For instance,
he writes that losing 10% of body weight can help curb obesity-related high
blood pressure, blood fat problems, and glucose (blood sugar)
The best strategy, Dietz says, is to help kids avoid gaining extra weight in
the first place. He offers these suggestions:
- Parents should limit high-calorie foods and TV time for kids.
- Schools can restore physical education classes and offer healthy
- Communities should boost access to recreational facilities.
If your teen years are long behind you, and you're still carrying extra
pounds, don't despair. Your doctor can gauge your health and talk about changes
that might improve it.