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Flabby teenage years presage health risks.

Overweight teens may jeopardize their future health, even if they slim down later in life, concludes a new scientific report.

Aviva Must and her colleagues wanted to find out the long-term health effects of being overweight as a teenager. They began by collecting data gathered during the Harvard Growth Study, an effort conducted from 1922 to 1935. The Harvard investigators had recorded height and growth measurements for more than 3,000 public school children annually from the first or second grade through high school. Must and her co-workers homed in on the records for 238 participants who had a body-mass index above the 75th percentile for their age and sex.

The people in this group were at least 20 pounds overweight when they were teenagers, says Must, who works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. For comparison, the researchers looked at data from 270 people in the Harvard study with lean to average weights during adolescence.

Must's team then began the task of tracking what had happened to the 508 Harvard Growth Study participants. To obtain medical histories, the researchers interviewed those who were still alive at the time of the Tufts study, all of whom were in their 70s. They searched death certificates for information about people who had died.

The researchers linked a broad range of ill effects to being overweight during the teen years. Their statistical analysis revealed that men who had been fat as teenagers were 2.3 times as likely to die from heart disease as men who had been lean. Both men and women who had been fat teens were more likely as adults to develop atherosclerosis. That finding underscores the notion that coronary artery disease starts early in life, Must says.

The study, published in the Nov. 5 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, also shows that men who had been fat as teenagers faced an increased risk of gout and colon and rectal cancers compared with men who had been slim.

Women who were overweight as teens were 1.6 times as likely to develop arthritis, an inflammation of the joints. Even if they were not afflicted with arthritis, women who had been overweight as teenagers reported greater difficulty climbing stairs and walking.

The increased risk of heart disease, arthritis, and other problems remained even for those overweight teens who shed the excess weight as adults, notes George A. Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. Bray wrote an editorial to accompany the research report.
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Title Annotation:more risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis in adults who were overweight in teen years
Author:Fackelmann, Kathy A.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 14, 1992
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