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Reuters Health: Weight gain in puberty tied to adult heart problems for men

Boys who gain an excessive amount of weight during their pre-teen and teen years may face a greater risk of dying from heart disease than boys or men who gain weight at other points in time, a Swedish study suggests.

When boys started puberty at a healthy weight and then became overweight during their pre-teen and teen years, they were roughly 2.4 times more likely to die of cardiovascular causes in adulthood than boys who were overweight during childhood and then slimmed down in adolescence, the study found.

Boys who were overweight throughout childhood and adolescence were 85 percent more likely to die of heart disease in adulthood than the heavy kids who achieved a normal weight as they went through puberty.

"We believe our results demonstrate that (weight) of boys should be monitored during puberty to identify individuals of increased risk," said senior study author Dr. Jenny Kindblom of the University of Gothenberg.

"Parents of teens should be aware of, and try to follow, the recommendations on how to prevent overweight/obesity," Kindblom added by email.

Among other things, this can include encouraging exercise and healthy eating habits.

While being overweight during childhood and adolescence has long been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood, the current study sheds new light on how the timing of weight gain may influence the degree of risk.

For the current study, researchers followed 37,672 Swedish men starting at age 20 for an average of almost 38 years. They had data on the men's weight when they were 8 years old and their change in body mass index (BMI) during puberty and teen years.

To see if the participants, as boys, had gained a lot of weight during puberty, researchers looked at their childhood growth charts for height and weight between the ages of 6.5 and 9.5 years old and again from 17.5 to 20 years old.

About 6.3 percent of the boys were overweight during childhood and 7.4 percent were overweight as young adults, researchers report in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, online November 1st.

During the study, 3,188 men died, including 710 who died of heart-related problems.

Childhood weight wasn't independently associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease, but substantial weight gain during puberty was, the study found.

Limitations of the study include the lack of data on boys' socioeconomic status or educational experience growing up, which can impact both weight and the risk of heart disease, the authors note. Researchers also lacked data on risk factors for heart disease like smoking or inactivity, and they didn't know whether the men were overweight or obese adults.

Also, the results may not apply to girls, Kindblom said by email.

It's possible that at least some boys classified as gaining weight during puberty in the study didn't actually add the pounds then but instead became overweight later in adolescence, Jennifer Baker of the University of Copenhagen writes in a linked editorial.

Puberty typically occurs at age 11 to 14, while the study looked at weight changes over a longer period of adolescence.

Even so, the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that being overweight in childhood or adolescence can lead to obesity, heart disease and other metabolic problems in adulthood, said Jordan Carlson, a researcher at Children's Mercy Kansas City who wasn't involved in the study.

"This means that it is incredibly important to target a healthy weight in adolescents and even in young children," Carlson said by email.

"Parents can do this by addressing weight problems early on and focusing on supporting healthy eating and providing ample physical activity opportunities throughout the day and in multiple settings," Carlson added. "It is also essential that parents model healthy eating and active living behaviors because they serve as important role models to their children."


Read the full article via M.D./alert.

Learn more about the Weight Management program at Children's Mercy.