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Do fat kids become fat adults?

Get Ahead Health Bureau | August 24, 2005

You like to indulge your child, especially her palate. Snacking on burgers, french fries, aerated drinks and a whole lot of other junk food fast becomes a habit with her.

The result -- your little girl starts putting on weight. 

A recent study conducted in the US threw up the following findings:

~ Overweight girls, who reach puberty early, may be overweight in their adult years.

~ But there was no link between precocious puberty alone and being overweight later in life. That is: early puberty alone doesn't necessarily lead to being overweight in adulthood. And underweight or average-weight girls who reach puberty early will not necessarily become overweight adults. 

 ~ It is childhood pudginess that is linked with both early menstruation and adult weight problems.

~ Girls who were overweight before their first menstrual periods were almost eight times more likely to be overweight as women.

Obesity -- the real culprit?

"Given the epidemic of obesity in the [US] population, it's important to know where best to intervene," says Aviva Must, associate professor of Public Health and Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston in her advice to parents. That intervention should start in childhood, she added.

The study discovered that early puberty is normal for some overweight girls but slender girls who get their first period early are not at risk of being overweight as an adult.

Her research was sparked by findings by other studies that early puberty in girls causes adult weight problems, Must said. That supposed link threatened to rob attention from the real culprit -- childhood obesity.

The study will stop doctors from trying to prevent obesity by suppressing early puberty with medications, said Dr David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Centre at Yale University School of Medicine.

"I think this is an important finding," Katz said. "In many ways, it corroborates common sense: Kids who struggle with their weight become adults who struggle with their weight."

The study defined early puberty as a first period before age 12. During the past 25 years, the average age for a girl's first period hasn't changed much, but it has crept earlier by about 2.5 months, Must said.

The data was drawn from 307 women who had participated 40 years ago in a prior study of their growth and maturation.

As girls, only four per cent were overweight before their first period. In adulthood, 37 percent of the women were overweight or obese.

Findings in India

Dr Roopa Nishi Vishwanathan gives us the Indian perspective:

The early onset of puberty is no longer a health concern restricted to affluent and developed countries.

In India, better socio-economic conditions, sedentary lifestyles and changing dietary patterns are leading to excessive weight gain, which in turn triggers early puberty.

In 2002, a study conductd with 5,000 school girls in Bangalore showed some girls attaining puberty as early as 10 years.

This trend, though not biologically damaging, can have psychological implications. Imagine advising eight year-olds to use inner wear and be careful on "those days of the month".

Tips for parents

~ Endocrinologists (a physician who diagnoses and treats conditions that relate to hormones) can delay the onset of puberty by administering specific drugs. However, it is not advisable to intervene with natural bodily functions especially at tender ages.

~ Childhood obesity deserves more attention as an emerging major health problem. The importance of a nutritious well-balanced diet and exercise needs to be stressed upon in school via health education.

 ~ Is is also very important to take care of pubescent girls properly to ensure a normal and happy childhood. Knowledge about menarche (the first period) will help avoid rude shocks.

i. Children must be encouraged to ask questions and discuss such issues with their peers.

ii. It is a good idea to give children a primer on the process of menstruation and mentally prepare them for all the changes their bodies will undergo.

iii. Sex education and counseling can go a long way in instilling confidence in both involved children and parents.


With inputs from PTI

© Copyright 2005 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

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