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Study: overweight more common among early-maturing girls, especially minorities

CHAPEL HILL -- American girls who mature earlier than others also are more likely to be overweight, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows. Early-maturing black girls faced the highest risk of obesity with 57.5 percent of them being at or above the 85th percentile of U.S. adolescent female body mass index, a measure of relative weight.

Because many health experts believe girls as a group may develop physically sooner than they did in past generations and because of rapidly increasing rates of type 2 diabetes, obesity-prevention efforts should target all U.S. girls, especially blacks, researchers said.

A report on the findings appears in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"Recent surveys show an alarming trend of increased prevalence rates of overweight in U.S. adolescents, particularly among minorities," wrote authors Drs. Linda S. Adair and Penny Gordon-Larsen, associate professor and assistant professor, respectively, of nutrition at the UNC schools of public health and medicine.

"In the 1960s, 21.1 percent of black females were overweight," the two wrote. "By the mid-1990s, the percentage had increased to 30.7 percent. Data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 1988 through 1991 also showed that 23.4 percent of Mexican-American female adolescents aged 12 to 17 years were overweight."

Adair and Gordon-Larsen set out to learn whether a clear relationship existed between early maturation and obesity, a link proposed by Harvard biologist Rose Frisch in the early 1970s.

They analyzed information from 6,500 Asian-American, Hispanic, black and white girls who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and divided the girls into three groups depending on the age at which they first menstruated. On average, they found that early maturing girls were shorter by more than a half inch and heavier by more
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Contact: David Williamson
David_Williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
29-Mar-2001


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