Girls in their “tween” years—the ages of 9-12—are especially vulnerable to excess weight gain and related health risks that may continue into adulthood, according to a recent study. Helping girls in this at-risk age group to eat well and keep active may prevent weight-related problems in the years to come.
Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the U.S. Since 1980, the percentage of overweight youth, ages 6-19, has more than tripled. Several studies are under way to better understand how and when childhood weight gain arises.
The latest results come from an NIH-funded study that enrolled more than 2,300 girls, ages 9-10, and followed them for more than a decade. The study showed that girls were far more likely to become overweight at 9-12 years of age than in later adolescence. Excess weight brought cardiovascular risks, like higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, even in some 9-year-old girls.
The researchers also found that weight problems were likely to persist. Compared to their non-overweight counterparts, girls who were overweight during childhood were 11-30 times more likely to be obese as young adults. In addition, there were differences between African-American and Caucasian girls, with black girls 1.5 times more likely to become overweight at any given age than white girls.
This study highlights the importance of helping girls as young as 9 maintain a healthy weight. Because African-American girls were at greater risk for weight gain, the results also suggest that obesity prevention efforts need to take into account cultural differences.
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