- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Being a tween was already hard enough, but scientists now call it an age when girls are especially at risk of getting fat.

Girls were more likely to become overweight from ages 9 to 12 than during their teenage years, researchers reported yesterday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The study could not explain why and did not examine boys to know whether they face a similar risk.

But it did highlight consequences of that adolescent weight gain. Chubby tweens already were seeing their blood pressure and cholesterol levels inch up, supporting research that fat’s toll on the arteries begins early. Also, being overweight in childhood brought more than a ten-fold risk of a youngster’s growing into a fat adult.

Parents should pay attention to creeping waistlines and poor dietary habits, particularly in this age group, said Dr. Denise Simons-Morton of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

“It seems to be a particularly vulnerable period,” said Dr. Simons-Morton, who heads obesity-prevention efforts at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

About 17 percent of U.S. youngsters are obese, and millions are overweight, a problem affecting all ages. Overweight children are at risk of developing diabetes, and they grow into overweight adults who, in turn, develop heart disease and other ailments.

The study tracked more than 2,300 white and black girls starting at age 9. Researchers measured height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol every year through 18. Participants were called in their early 20s to check their weight.

About 7.4 percent of the white girls and 17.4 percent of the blacks were overweight by 9. Each year through age 12, 2 percent to 5 percent of the remaining girls became overweight, reported Douglas Thompson of the Maryland Medical Research Institute, the paper’s lead author.

After the girls reached 12, new cases leveled off to 1 percent to 2 percent a year.

Other research has shown that the preteen years are when youngsters switch from heeding parents’ dietary advice to eating like their friends do, Dr. Simons-Morton said.

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