|Adults born during early years of US obesity epidemic uniquely prone to obesity, study finds|
|August 03, 2012|
Despite recent reports that obesity in the U.S. appears to be leveling off, young adults who were born in the 1980s may continue to be burdened by increasing rates of obesity when compared to the rest of the adult population, according to a study published in the May 2012 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1971 and 2008, the researchers also discovered a marked generational difference in the rates of obesity.
The findings raise new concerns as it seems people born during this time - when obesity prevalence increased dramatically after being stable for decades - might be more susceptible to obesity across their whole life because of something they experienced very early in life.UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"People born in the 1980s are more likely to be obese than we would expect from exposure to the obesogenic environment only," said Whitney Ragan Robinson, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and a faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center. An obesogenic environment is one that enables obesity with factors including larger portion sizes and extended times sitting at a desk.
"They may be extra-sensitive to obesity-causing factors because of things that happened earlier in their life as their bodies and behaviors developed," Robinson said.
The authors do not yet understand the factors contributing to this excess risk. However, they speculate that the increasing rate of obesity among pregnant women at the time or, alternatively, being nutritionally deprived either in utero or in infancy may play a role.
"Obesity appears to be stabilizing, which is a good thing," Robinson said. "There are also many efforts focused on preventing obesity in children, which is a really important area. But based on our findings, we are potentially missing people who were children in the 80s who are now young adults and appear to be very vulnerable to obesity, and they need to be targeted as well."
She said she hopes these findings will shape public health efforts to prevent incident obesity and further weight gain in this group, especially as they reach middle age and begin to experience obesity-related conditions like hypertension and diabetes.
The higher obesity prevalence for young adults born in the 1980s occurred despite the researchers' controlling for age and environmental influences. The generational differences were more pronounced in women than in men. Of particular concern was the fact that the generational divergence seems especially pronounced in black women.
"This is discouraging because black women who are baby boomers or from Generation X, in particular, already have really high obesity prevalence," said Robinson. "It's quite alarming that young black women are even more susceptible to obesity than previous generations. We need to prevent further weight gain in these Generation Y young adults."
She hopes this work will lead to future studies to tease out the factors that might be increasing obesity prevalence in this population.
UNC co-authors of the study include Chantel L. Martin, doctoral student in the epidemiology department, and Yang Yang, PhD, associate professor of sociology. Other co-authors were Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and Rebecca L. Utz, PhD, assistant professor of sociology, the University of Utah.
Read the study online.
|Last updated August 07, 2012|