Sunday, May 8, 2011

Many obese teens put on even more weight as young adults

Sunday, May 8, 2011

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About half of obese teenage girls and about a third of obese teen boys become severely obese by the time they are 30 — meaning they are 80 to 100 pounds over a healthy weight, the new research says.

"We see a tremendous amount of weight gain during those years," says Penny Gordon-Larsen, senior author of the study and an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Other research has found that heavy children are more likely to become heavy adults. But this is one of the first studies to show what happens to teens who are obese — that is roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight — as they reach adulthood.

Currently, about a third of children and adolescents in this country weigh too much, and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Extra pounds put people at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer.

Gordon-Larsen and UNC colleagues reviewed national data on the height and weight records of almost 9,000 people ages 12 to 21 who were followed for 13 years. Among findings, reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association:

•About three-quarters of severely obese teens remained that heavy at age 30.

•Only 1%-2% of normal-weight teens became severely obese by the time they were 30.

•Normal-weight adolescents gained an average of 37 pounds from their teen years to age 30. Their average height was 5-foot-7.

Some weight gain is normal as teens move from the end of childhood into adulthood and their frames fill out with muscle and they reach their adult height, Gordon-Larsen says.

But there are other reasons why people this age gain so much, she says. This is an action-packed decade with people going to college, getting married, having babies, starting new jobs.

They often exercise less than they did when they were in high school or college, and they may eat in restaurants more and fall victim to large portion sizes, she says.

"They are not building exercise into their daily routine. They are not moving a lot during their regular day," Gordon-Larsen says. "We know that you need a high level of daily physical activity — about an hour to an hour and a half a day — if you want to lose or maintain your weight."

Natalie The, lead author of the study and a UNC researcher, says people tend to gain a few pounds every year, and over 10 years, "those few pounds can add up to a substantial weight gain."

Young adults should be aware of this and figure out how to eat healthy and move more, she says.

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