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Researchers see trend in teen weight gain since the 90’s

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Teen weight gain over the decades

Teens and young adults have slowly been putting on weight, contributing to the current numbers of overweight and obese young adults, finds a new study. In an analysis of weight changes over the decades, researchers say young adults seem to be especially vulnerable to weight gain, which they tracked as beginning in the 1990’s.

In the new finding, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers analyzed data from four national health surveys that included whites, African-Americans and Hispanics between the ages of 12 and 26.

What they found was between the 1960’s to 1980’s, weights remained stable, but then, began to increase in some groups only. That finding in particular, say the researchers, means there is not a simple explanation for obesity in teens and young adults.

Weight gain trends upward for young adults in the 2000’s

For teens, weight gain started in the 1990’s. For young adults, the researchers stay a trend for higher body mass index (BMI) was seen beginning in the 2000’s.

By 2000, body mass index increased among 18 years olds increased to about 24.5. BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight and 30 an above constitutes obesity.

The finding also showed weight increased more quickly among females, especially African-American, compared to males.

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Study co-author Kathleen Mullan Harris says the study highlights the needs for obesity prevention during teen years and young adulthood.

“Females are at greater risk than males, and black females are at greatest risk. For young people in particular, it has do to with more of a sedentary lifestyle and an increasing portion of weekly meals that are fast food,” Harris said. “There’s more TV watching and sitting in front of the computer, as well as more video game playing.”

Jason Fletcher, an assistant professor of public health at Yale University who studies childhood obesity explains the study provides information about how teens transition into overweight or obese adults.

Fletcher says most explanations about why young adults have become overweight and obese probably aren’t true, because “They fail to capture the large differences in the obesity increases by race and gender.”

The study shows how teenagers and young adults have slowly become increasingly heavier. Weight gain seen in the 2000’s still didn’t constitute obesity in the average 18 year old. The researchers followed weight gain trends up to 2002.

Harris notes some studies show young adults are still putting on pounds, but it seems like the trend may be slowing down.

Lee HE, et al. U.S. trends in body mass in adolescence and young adulthood, 1959-2002.
J Adolesc Health online, 2011.

Image credit: Morguefile