‘Tween Girls at Risk for Fatness

No, I did not make that title up myself.

As if being a tween is not hard enough, scientists now call the years between 9 and 12 a time when girls are especially at risk of getting fat.

Girls are more likely to become overweight in those preteen years than when they are teenagers, researchers report Monday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The study did not say why that was and did not examine boys to know whether they face a similar risk.

Imagine that.

Other research has shown that the preteen years are when youngsters switch from heeding parents’ dietary advice to eating like their friends do, [National Institutes for Health Dr. Denise] Simons-Morton said. Less physical activity plays a role, too. She recalls from her own daughters’ tween years long sedentary hours on the phone and worries about getting sweaty.

“It should be cool to be physically active, and attractive,” she said.

Yes. Because what’s cool now is to sit around and be ugly. Someone’s got her finger on the pulse of adolescent priorities.


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24 comments for “‘Tween Girls at Risk for Fatness

  1. January 8, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    I thought it had something to do with the hormones, and the boobies, and the hips, but no, we reject our parents and get lazy.

    Has that woman never seen a teenager on a phone? My 15 year old sister paces like mad on the phone, it drives everyone else batty.

    Whatever. We’re supposed to get fatter as puberty hits, we need it for healthy menstruation and reproduction.

  2. car
    January 8, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    I just – wow. Between that and the heart-wrenching NYT article about having BMI done at school and sent home, I don’t know if I ever could survive adolescence these days. I was always self-conscious about my size, but height more than weight -I was average to short, really, but my childhood best friend was teeny (full adult height of 4’10”) and I always felt like a giant compared to her. In junior high I was squarely average; a little on the meaty side, but still completely average enough that I never really paid attention to it. I honestly can’t remember ever trying to diet when I was younger, even though I was somewhat overweight by the time I graduated from high school (that meaning about 15 pounds, an amount that makes me quite envious now). It truly wasn’t on my radar. I shudder to think of the neuroses I would have developed if all of society had a microscope on me the way they do to girls now.

  3. mythago
    January 8, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Yeah? I’ve got a finger for Dr. Simons-Morton right here.

    You just know that these are the same people who wonder WHY, OH GOD, WHY teenagers starve themselves, smoke, do speed or become bulimic.

  4. January 8, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    i saw that article today and stopped reading at the part where they said they hadn’t don’t research on boys.

  5. elektrodot
    January 8, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    “i saw that article today and stopped reading at the part where they said they hadn’t don’t research on boys.”

    yea really. how is that even a study? oh we tested the girls weight gain against….other girls and decided they are especially at risk over boys…whaa?

  6. EoL
    January 9, 2007 at 12:39 am

    I was incredibly physically active during those years, sometimes with two sports on the same day, and I still gained weight. I didn’t freak over sweating or ever talk on the phone and somehow (MAYBE IT WAS … PUBERTY!!! OMIGOSH!!) gained a bunch of weight.

    This sounds SO scientific. Really.

  7. mustelid
    January 9, 2007 at 6:26 am

    At age 10, I ate everything in sight w/ no discernible effect. Okay, being active probably helped. A year or so later, I gained a shitload of weight, despite eating less and exercising more. Oh, if only there had been overzealous docs in my life back then! My eating disorder would’ve progressed so much faster, w/ all sorts of nifty additional side effects. /sarcasm

  8. Sara
    January 9, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Um.

    Just about any parent has watched as their small child suddenly starts eating like a horse. Then they get thick around the middle and their arms and legs fill out a bit.

    And then they grow. Sometimes overnight. And the thickness stretches – skin and fat together – over the new, longer, bones. Because they’re babies and toddlers, its “normal.” But for tween/teen girls, it must be a PATHOLOGY?

    I was 5’0 at the end of5th grade, and 5’8″ by the middle of 8th. Most of that growth happened in a very short time – I think I grew 6″ in a year. Of COURSE I got “fat” as a tween — if I hadn’t gained that weight FIRST, my skin would have literally broken as I grew. As it was, the stretchmarks around my knees took years to fade.

    And physical activity? I’d always loved it. But when your arms and legs are longer than your brain thinks they are, AND you’ve got these new fat deposits on your chest, throwing your balance off, it might just be that you feel like you need to sit still and figure out where the corners of your new flesh are. Maybe.

    Making little girls fear the weight they gain as they prepare to grow and go through puberty isn’t going to do anyone any good. Bah, humbug.

  9. January 9, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Yeah, I gained more weight when I was 11.

    It’s called “growing breasts” and “getting my period.” OMG STOP THE PRESSES!

    Of course, a year later I gained even more weight, but that was due to emotional upheaval, a nervous breakdown, and a newly developed eating disorder.

  10. Frumious B
    January 9, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Here’s the abstract:

    J Pediatr. 2007 Jan;150(1):18-25. Links
    Childhood Overweight and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study.Thompson DR, Obarzanek E, Franko DL, Barton BA, Morrison J, Biro FM, Daniels SR, Striegel-Moore RH.
    Maryland Medical Research Institute, Baltimore, MD; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, MD; Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA; Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH; and Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, MA.

    OBJECTIVE: To estimate the prevalence and incidence of overweight in African-American and Caucasian girls, and to examine associations between adolescent overweight and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. STUDY DESIGN: In the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study (NGHS), annual measurements were obtained from girls followed longitudinally between age 9 or 10 and 18 years; self-reported measures were obtained at age 21 to 23 years. A total of 1166 Caucasian girls and 1213 African-American girls participated in the study. Childhood overweight as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was the independent variable of primary interest. Measured outcomes included blood pressure and lipid levels. RESULTS: Rates of overweight increased through adolescence from 7% to 10% in the Caucasian girls and from 17% to 24% in the African-American girls. The incidence of overweight was greater at age 9 to 12 than in later adolescence. Girls who were overweight during childhood were 11 to 30 times more likely to be obese in young adulthood. Overweight was significantly associated with increased percent body fat, sum of skinfolds and waist circumference measurements, and unhealthful systolic and diastolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. CONCLUSION: A relationship between CVD risk factors and CDC-defined overweight is present at age 9.

    PMID: 17188606 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

    elektrodot – you made that up. Neither Salon, nor msnbc nor the actual authors of the study concluded that girls are at risk for excess weight gain over boys.

  11. zuzu
    January 9, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Nevertheless, they didn’t offer any reason why boys weren’t studied.

  12. January 9, 2007 at 11:03 am

    All 3 of my stepchildren became round, then long, then round, then long. In fact almost every kid I’ve seen has done this. At the round stages, we did sometimes wonder if they would remain spherical, but were careful not to mention it. Nothing bad happened.

  13. Mnemosyne
    January 9, 2007 at 11:20 am

    The incidence of overweight was greater at age 9 to 12 than in later adolescence.

    Now I’m really confused by this study — if the girls were more likely to be overweight between ages 9 and 12 (as mentioned above, the ages of puberty), it sounds from this sentence that many of them didn’t stay overweight, probably because they had a growth spurt.

    So what was the correlation between overweight at those ages and in later adolescence? How does it compare to previous generations, or even previous decades? And if the “overweight” is related to a coming growth spurt, would we stunt the girls’ growth by insisting they remain at a “normal” weight during that age range?

  14. January 9, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Frumious B, for finding the abstract.

    zuzu, they may not have had the funding or opportunity to study the data on boys. Scientists have to work hard to get what funding they can, and many of their questions go unanswered. These particular scientists may have decided years ago to focus their careers on health questions involving women and African Americans because in earlier decades health studies tended to focus on caucasians and men. So its focus on two racial groups and one gender are not reasons to dismiss the study out of hand. It is worth thinking about from a public health standpoint:

    The obesity-related heart disease factors can be observed as early as nine, and once a person gets overweight it’s tough to slim down, so schools and parents need to carefully consider ways to promote healthy lifestyles at that age. At what age do schools cut back on recess for the sake of more sitting in class? Is that contributing to a sedentary lifestyle? It could be that unhealthy school lunches and lack of exercise now will costs our kids in heart attacks & healthcare bills later on.

  15. Regina
    January 9, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Isn’t 9-12 the run-up to puberty for most girls? Isn’t it normal to go through a mass increase right before puberty? This article could just as well have been titled, “Tween girls at risk for becoming teen girls”.

  16. January 9, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    “zuzu, they may not have had the funding or opportunity to study the data on boys.”

    That’s highly unlikely, and, in fact, doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense.

    What they had was enough money to study X amount of people. They could have just as easily studied X/2 number of boys and X/2 number of girls. Instead they studied X number of girls.

    The only way in which money really could have played the deciding factor in their choice to study girls and not children is if the people funding them insisted on it. Which is still creepy and not terribly ethical on the part of the scientists.

    Unless, as you point out, they did so because there are other studies out there focusing on boys and men. Other than that, I don’t see any good reason for it. That suggestion makes me curious about the actual study, though, since if providing balanced information was their main concern, such studies on boys will be mentioned at length in the paper itself for comparison. The fact that such comparisons are not mentioned even once in the abstract suggests that balancing the score and getting a full picture is not likely to be their main goal.

    elektrodot’s statement is true (at least in the Star Wars sense) because it is inferred from the fact that they chose to study girls and not children, suggesting that girls getting fat is a concern, but boys getting fat is not.

    Obviously their scientific conclusion is that girls are more at risk of starting on the path to obesity at age 9 than at age 18. Not that girls are more at risk than boys. Or that nine-year-ol girls are fatter than 18-year-old girls.

    However, I question the usefulness of a study that concludes this without once referencing puberty. Obviously, this is only the abstract, not the full paper. But, in my experience with abstracts and papers, if it doesn’t mention something that fundamental the former, it’s unlikely to be more than an afterthought in the latter.

  17. karpad
    January 9, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    see, if I were feeling particularly snarkish, I’d wonder John Derbishire is the sponsor of the study, as they encourage 9-12 year olds to “be physically active and attractive.”

    yeah, feeling a bit snarkish.

  18. Raging Moderate
    January 9, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    i saw that article today and stopped reading at the part where they said they hadn’t don’t research on boys.

    I’m with ya there. Any study that doesn’t include white males is of no interest to me either. Why even bother.

  19. January 9, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Girls gain weight at puberty because fat stores estrogen well, and of course that would be useful at that point in life Doctors are getting creepy. I take that back, doctors have had a long creepy history.

  20. mythago
    January 10, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Overweight was significantly associated with increased percent body fat, sum of skinfolds and waist circumference measurements, and unhealthful systolic and diastolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

    So, am I missing something here, or are they ascribing one symptom (“overweight”, whatever that means) as causative of all the others?

  21. January 10, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Nope, mythago, they are not assuming “overweight” is causing the other factors listed. They are simply stating it is associated. When you gather data, it is important to arrange it in many pairings to see if new correlations show up, or if expected correlations don’t show up. The latter might mean there was an error in the data collection, or it might mean current scientific views need revision.

    zuzu, regarding the money argument on funding X vs. X/2 people in the study–I notice that they got just over 1100 women in the two categories. I think a statistician will tell you that a sample of over 1000 has a much lower margin-of-error than a sample of 500 subjects. And NIH grant money has been really tight of late. For some reason, the past couple years, the Federal government hasn’t been spending as much money on scientific research on health questions. Maybe this was funded by private sources, but until somebody digs up the funder’s name, we can’t make conclusions about that.

    Now that they have this data, they might be able to find other studies on the age of puberty onset, and be able to describe the relationships between puberty & weight gain. It might be interesting to know if African American women have the same average weight gain in puberty as Caucasian women, or a different average. Then again it might not reveal anything, but in general, scientist would rather have data available in case she thinks of a question about it.

  22. January 10, 2007 at 10:30 am

    that was me – not zuzu, and the point is that you can

    A) study children and young adults

    B) study girls and young women

    C) study boys and young men

    D) study and compare and contrast both

    Why the hell must the study be done on “boy or girls” or “boys and girls.” Unless one actually cares about the onset of puberty (and consequently about the ages of the children in relation to puberty, which may create logistical problems) – which the abstract fails to indicate – what does it matter if the kids are male or female?

    It’s not like comparing each kid to the “correct” BMI or any other stat is going to suddenly require more work, and if your goal is to examine obesity in children your stats will be more accurate if you have a representative sample of all children – even if the sample for each subset isn’t big enough to make conclusions about that subset.

    “For some reason, the past couple years, the Federal government hasn’t been spending as much money on scientific research on health questions.”

    Federal funding for all scientific research has been in a long downward spiral and I’m well aware of that. The rising dominance of private funding is part of why I’m skeptical regarding the motives of restricting the study to girls.

    “Now that they have this data, they might be able to find other studies on the age of puberty onset, and be able to describe the relationships between puberty & weight gain”

    If they actually wanted to study that properly, they would have needed to use the info you suggest to simply pick the ages of the girls tested, and then take data regarding each individual’s stage of development in addition to other information they collected. Which really wouldn’t have been all that difficult. Quite frankly, I’d be a little surprised if general health wasn’t included as part of the data collection – and for teen girls that includes the regularity of their periods.

    I guess what I find weird and possibly disturbing about the abstract is that while the obvious purpose was to compare white and black teen girls* the abstract mentions the weight gain at the onset of puberty – without actually noting that the onset of puberty is the period under discusion – as if this were news or indicative of tendency towards obesity in and of itself.

    *I’m still curious as to why those two groups, but it’s decently possible it’s to even out previous imbalances.

  23. January 10, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Small points, Mickle:
    1. Federal funding is flush for what the Pentagon wants to research.
    2. NIH funded this study, according to the AP article.

    “If they actually wanted to study that properly, they would have needed to use the info you suggest to simply pick the ages of the girls tested, and then take data regarding each individual’s stage of development in addition to other information they collected. Which really wouldn’t have been all that difficult. Quite frankly, I’d be a little surprised if general health wasn’t included as part of the data collection – and for teen girls that includes the regularity of their periods.

    “I guess what I find weird and possibly disturbing about the abstract is that while the obvious purpose was to compare white and black teen girls* the abstract mentions the weight gain at the onset of puberty – without actually noting that the onset of puberty is the period under discusion – as if this were news or indicative of tendency towards obesity in and of itself.”

    While we the commenters are the ones talking about the puberty issue which isn’t explicitly mentioned by the study, I think it is fair to say that studies are written with a style that avoids stating things like that because scientists do not want to overreach. It is incontestable that these women were between 9 and 12 when measured for the study. But while puberty starts for most women in those ages, a random sample of 1100 women might turn up some women who had puberty at 8 years or wouldn’t until 13 years. Age is a clean, definite measureable quantity, and–if you’ll pardon the pun–puberty is a “messier” measureable quantity.

    The scientists who did this study are aware that these are the years of puberty, but may feel that to properly study weight changes during puberty would have required more resources than were available.

  24. January 10, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    “Federal funding is flush for what the Pentagon wants to research.”

    Which, like most private funding, is pretty much limited to applied science.

    ” I think it is fair to say that studies are written with a style that avoids stating things like that because scientists do not want to overreach.”

    The problem with that is that they use the term “childhood” when even the youngest of the girls studied are likely to be entering puberty. So, they aren’t studing childhood obesity, they are more accurately studying obesity in puberty and adolescence – as they state in the beginning.

    “The scientists who did this study are aware that these are the years of puberty…”

    I’m sure that they are. I don’t think they are stupid. I’m fairly certain they picked age 9 as the starting point for that very reason.

    When I say it sounds weird, I’m saying that because, in my experience with abtracts for scientific studies, there is – well – hypothesis, data collection, analysis, conclusion.

    But the conclusion for the abstract doesn’t mesh with it’s goals. The final statements are only tangentally about “associations between adolescent overweight and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors” – since the conclusion is exclusively about nine-year-olds. Out of all their results, that was the one that either stood out the most or answered their question the best.

    Is as if they stumbled across the question of “how young do kids get fat?” while researching “how fat are teen girls these days?”

    Granted, your conclusion can veer widely from your intitial focus, but when it does, the concluding statement generally acknowledges that. If this one acknowledges anything of the sort, it’s only that it’s shocking that girls that young are at risk for obesity. Which is dumb, since these are medical researchers who know damn well that 9-12 is the average age for puberty in girls, and that girls do – and should – get fatter in puberty.

    Granted, it could be a shitty abstract for a good study with a good paper. But I have to at least conclude that either the scientific community is even worse at writing than I remember, or this abstract is poorly written.

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