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Study: Early Puberty Does Not Affect Adult Obesity

Study: Early Puberty Does Not Affect Adult ObesityA study by a Tufts researcher shows that the age at which a girl first menstruates does not determine risk for adult obesity. Rather, her weight as a child is key.

Boston [09.08.05] A study by Tufts School of Medicine Associate Professor Aviva Must found that young girls who are overweight begin menstruating earlier and are also more likely to be overweight as adults. This contradicts a longstanding belief that the onset of the period itself was a factor in adult obesity.

"These findings are significant because they show us where our efforts should focus: childhood obesity," Must – a researcher in the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine– said at a media briefing sponsored by the American Medical Association and the National PTA.

The study had been aimed at determining whether or not the time at which a girl begins puberty could affect adult weight. Must's results – published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics and covered internationally by the Associated Press, Reuters and various health news services – disproved this notion.

"It has been long known that if you are overweight as you grow up, you are more likely to begin puberty early," said Must. "Girls who are overweight are more likely to have early menarche, or start their period, before age 12. I have been concerned that a widespread belief was forming that the timing of menarche was itself linked to later weight status."

The results of this study clarify expectations for development in both overweight and normal weight girls.

"The parents of an overweight child may expect that their child is going to mature earlier," she said. "She may be taller than her classmates before menarche, and she may have her first menstrual period and start developing breasts before her leaner girlfriends. That is not a cause for concern; it is part of normal growth and development for an overweight child. For the parents of a girl who is not overweight and who gets her first period early, it doesn't mean she's at increased risk for being overweight as an adult."

The study involved 700 girls from nearby Newton, Mass., who were recruited in 1965 and studied from before their first period through their 20th period. After coming across the study, The Boston Globe reported, Must and her colleagues followed up with 450 of those women, now at an average age of 42.

Researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) for each of these women and found that 28 percent were overweight and 9 percent were obese. The girls who were overweight before their first period, the study found, were more than seven times as likely to be overweight as adults than those who were at a normal or below normal weight at the beginning of the study.

These results, said Must, "show clearly that adult body fatness echoes childhood body size." And according to the Globe, four times as many children are overweight now as in the 1960s.

These new insights into the connection between puberty and obesity underscore the need for parents to work closely with doctors and nutrition experts to develop healthy eating habits for their children.

"With kids, there's always the concern that severely restricted diets can interfere with growth," Must told the Globe. "With obesity, there are no magic bullets."

The Tufts researcher hopes these results will lead to a greater overall focus on childhood obesity.

“Given the epidemic of obesity in the population, it’s important to know where best to intervene,” Must said.

























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